A suicide blast in eastern Afghanistan has killed at least four French soldiers as President Francois Hollande announed France’s plans to begin withdrawing its troop from the country next month.
NATO confirmed on Saturday that four of its troops were killed in a suicide attack earlier in the day. The soldiers were all French, officials said.
In an email, Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack in the Nijrab district of Kapisa province.
Five other people were injured in the attack when a man wearing a burqa detonated his explosives after approaching the French forces on foot, a local official said.
Hollande said on Saturday that France would pay a “national homage” to the men. He added that the wounded will be repatriated rapidly.
“This morning during an operation in Afghanistan in Kapisa province, four of our French soldiers were killed. Five wounded were evacuated including three in a serious condition,” his office said in a statement.
Hollande announced that France would begin its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July and complete it by the end of the year.
The withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan is one of Hollande’s electoral promises.
It “will begin in the month of July, will be carried out and end at the end of year 2012,” the French president said.
“In the meantime, everything must be done for our troops to meet their obligations but with the highest level of security and with the greatest vigilance for the lives of the soldiers.
“I am making this engagement here and I will be the guarantor for this operation,” he said.
France has 3,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly stationed in Kapisa, and provides the fifth largest contingent to NATO’s 130,000-strong US-led force.
French troops had previously been targeted in a gun attack earlier this year when an Afghan army soldier killed four un-armed French soldiers and left another sixteen injured.
The January attack led to a brief suspension of French training operations in the Central Asian nation.
Hollande has continued with his predecessor’s calls for an early French withdrawal from Afghanistan. In a surprise visit to Afghanistan last month, he said France would begin the withdrawal of its combat troops this year, two years ahead of the timetable agreed by NATO.