Hollande: 4 French soldiers, interpreter killed in Afghanistan
POSTED: Saturday, June 9, 2012 - 5:00pm
UPDATED: Saturday, June 9, 2012 - 5:04pm
INTERNATIONAL NEWS (CNN) — French President Francois Hollande mourned the deaths of four French soldiers and an Afghan interpreter killed in a suicide bombing and said his plan to withdraw combat forces by year's end will start next month.
The bombing occurred in Kapisa province, where most of the 3,300 French troops have been operating in Afghanistan. Hollande said five people were also injured in the attack. It brings the number of French fatalities in the Afghan war to 87.
"I wish to express my gratitude and that of the whole nation to our soldiers. I salute their dedication and courage. I know the strength of character of our troops in Afghanistan," Hollande said.
"I offer families the message of solidarity and comfort of the French people. A national tribute will be paid to the victims and the wounded will be repatriated as soon as possible. A plane has already left and will ensure them back as soon as possible."
French troops deployed under the NATO-led command have been operating in Kapisa province for years.
Hollande, who recently won the presidential election, campaigned for an accelerated withdrawal of combat forces and called for their removal from the field by the end of the year. Trainers will remain in the country longer.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force reported the deaths of four service members in an attack, but deferred identification of the nationalities to the troops' home countries.
After he took office last month, Hollande visited French troops in the same region where the soldiers died.
He visited the Nijrab forward operating base in the northeastern province of Kapisa and paid tribute to those soldiers killed in the line of duty. The Afghan Interior Ministry said the bombing took place in the Nijrab district's Pul-i-Khwaja bazaar area.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the bomber was a man who had been dressed in a burqa, the head-to-toe garment Muslim women in Afghanistan wear to cover their bodies in public.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the man had explosives strapped to his body.
The incident is under investigation, and Hollande said he asked Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and the army chief of staff to go to Afghanistan on Sunday and "mark the nation's support to our forces."
"The decision that I made to accelerate the withdrawal of French combat forces from Afghanistan will begin in July. It will be implemented and completed by the end of 2012. Until then, everything must be done for our troops meet our obligations with the highest level of security and the utmost vigilance. I take this commitment and I will be the guarantor of the transaction."
In a separate incident, ISAF reported the death of a service member after a roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan. It did not list the province and the nationality of the soldier.
CNN's Ingrid Formanek in Kabul and Joe Sterling in Atlanta contributed to this report