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AFGHANISTAN

Five French soldiers killed in Afghanistan

Five French soldiers were killed on Wednesday in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan's northeastern province of Kapisa, NATO's alliance force and a local police chief said.

The coalition’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) issued a statement saying five NATO soldiers had been killed in an insurgent attack in the east of the country, later confirming that the incident was in Kapisa.  

The police chief in the district of Tagab in Kapisa said a suicide bomber had detonated in front of a French military convoy in the area, leaving “some casualties among the French forces”.

“At around 11:25 today a suicide attacker on foot targeted a French convoy in Gulzarkhail village of Tagab district. There were some casualties among the French forces,” said senior police official Sayed Sakhidad Matin.

He said an Afghan policeman had also been injured in the attack.

The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy — who paid a surprise visit to the war-torn country a day earlier — later confirmed five French soldiers had died in the attack and said an Afghan civilian had also been killed.

Four more soldiers and three more local civilians were “gravely wounded” in the attack on a unit which was protecting a local tribal council meeting, the presidential statement said.

“A terrorist detonated his bomb close to the French soldiers,” the Elysee said, condemning the “cowardly murder” and expressing France’s determination to remain part of the NATO-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan.

The attack was the deadliest blow to French forces in Afghanistan since August 2008, when 10 soldiers were killed and 21 injured when a patrol was ambushed by Taliban guerrillas in the Sarobi district east of Kabul.

The deaths brought to 69 the number of French soldiers to have died in Afghanistan since 2001, when they deployed in support of the US-led campaign to overthrow the Taliban regime and hunt Al-Qaeda militants.

They are also a political blow for Sarkozy, coming a day after his visit to Afghanistan — where he defended the campaign against opposition at home — and the day before the Bastille Day military parade in Paris.

The march down the Champs Elysees is the highlight of the French army’s calendar, but will now be overshadowed by the ongoing violence in Afghanistan, amid calls for France to accelerate its withdrawal from the country.

Sarkozy announced on Tuesday during his trip to Sarobi that a quarter of France’s 4,000-strong contingent would come home before the end of next year.

NATO earlier announced the death of two foreign troops in the south, one in an insurgent attack on Wednesday, and a second in a bomb attack on Tuesday.

The latest deaths bring this year’s toll to 306 foreign troops killed in Afghanistan, according to an AFP estimate based on data compiled by independent icasualties.org.

AFGHANISTAN

French fighters appear with Islamic State in Afghanistan

French and Algerian fighters, some arriving from Syria, have joined the ranks of the Islamic State group in northern Afghanistan where the militants have established new bases, multiple international and Afghan sources have told AFP.

French fighters appear with Islamic State in Afghanistan
A remote village in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. File photo: AFP

It is the first time that the presence of French Isis fighters has been recorded in Afghanistan, and comes as analysts suggested foreigners may be heading for the war-torn country after being driven from Syria and Iraq.

It is also a troubling sign as France, which has faced the worst of the Isis-inspired violence in Europe since 2015, debates how to handle hundreds of its citizens who went to fight for the group in the Middle East.

“A number” of Algerian and French nationals entered the largely Isis-controlled district of Darzab in northern Jowzjan province in November, said district governor Baaz Mohammad Dawar.

At least two women were among the arrivals, who were travelling with a translator from Tajikistan as well as Chechens and Uzbeks, Dawar added.

European and Afghan security sources in Kabul confirmed Dawar's claim that French citizens were among the fighters — though, one cautioned, “we do not know how many there are”.

Mohammad Raza Ghafoori, the Jowzjan provincial governor's spokesman, said French-speaking Caucasian men and women had been seen training IS fighters in Darzab.

He cited reports saying that around 50 children, some as young as 10, have also been recruited by the fighters.

Darzab residents told AFP that roughly 200 foreigners had set up camp just a few hundred metres from the village of Bibi Mariam.

One local man who gave his name as Hajji said the fighters were of several nationalities, including French, and were tall, aged in their late 20s, and dressed in military clothing.

“They ride their (motor) bikes, go to the border and come back, but they talk to nobody,” he said.

Hashar, a former district village chief, said some were training others to use suicide bombs and lay mines.

“They are… bringing misery to normal people,” he told AFP, as other villagers said many residents had fled the area.

Locals along with district governor Dawar warned the fighters were also exploiting natural resources, such as precious stones and metals.

One of the security sources said that two of the French had been nicknamed “The Engineers” and appeared to be organising some sort of extraction, “but we do not know what they are looking for”.

Several European services believe the fighters are arriving through Tajikistan, the source said, adding that at least one Frenchman arrested there in July said he had wanted to join IS in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has long attracted foreign fighters, from the mujahedeen during the 1980s war against Soviet invaders to Al-Qaeda's later use of the country as a haven.

The Pentagon has said Isis numbers fewer than 1,000 in Afghanistan.

But the growing presence of foreign fighters among them indicates that Isis “seeks to create an external operations node for new waves of global attacks,” warned analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War recently.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, an expert on jihadist groups, said he did not think the presence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan meant that Isis was necessarily “shifting its base”.

The group's “natural home is Iraq and Syria, but I presume many of the foreigners in particular are taking the opportunity either to escape entirely or moving to other battlefields for Isis where they might prove more useful,” he told AFP.

The head of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, has vowed the group will be “annihilated”, and Washington notoriously dropped the so-called “Mother Of All Bombs” on an Isis stronghold in Nangarhar in April.

But as the number of fighters grows in Darzab, the villager Hajji told AFP there were no signs of pro-government forces in the district.

“(The) government is God damned,” he said. “There is no government here.”

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