President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday held an emergency security meeting as yet another French soldier was killed in Afghanistan, a day after five others died in a suicide attack there.
Sarkozy said the meeting, which gathered his prime minister, defence and foreign affairs ministers and military top brass, was to discuss how to keep French combat troops safe before they quit Afghanistan by 2014.
"The most complex period to handle is the transition and withdrawal period," he told reporters on the Champs Elysees as he inspected the giant annual military parade there attended by tens of thousands of onlookers.
"I have announced a withdrawal calendar for our troops in Afghanistan. This withdrawal will begin this year and will carry on until 2013. We had a job to do and we have done it," the president said.
He reiterated that, in agreement with NATO allies, responsibility for security in the war-torn country would be progressively handed over to Afghans themselves.
Shortly after Sarkozy spoke at the parade, his office announced that a French soldier had been killed Thursday while taking part in an operation alongside Afghan police in Kapisa province, east of Kabul.
That brought to 70 the number of French soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since 2001, when they deployed to support the US-led campaign to overthrow the Taliban regime and hunt Al-Qaeda militants.
Sarkozy said this year's July 14 national holiday, which saw the French military display its might on the Champs Elysees as warplanes and helicoptersroared overhead, was dedicated to the soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Before arriving at the parade Sarkozy visited a military hospital near Paris to visit soldiers wounded while serving as part of France's 4,000-strong contingent there.
Some wounded soldiers and their families sat alongside government ministers and top officials in a tribune at the bottom of the Champs Elysees to watch as thousands of troops marched or rode by on horseback.
The five soldiers killed on Wednesday along with an Afghan civilian were aged between 27 and 38. A suicide bomber targeted them as they protected a local tribal council in the Tagab valley of Kapisa province, east of Kabul.
Wednesday's attack was the worst loss for French forces since August 2008, when 10 soldiers were killed and 21 injured after Taliban guerrillas ambushed a patrol in Uzbin, in the Sarobi district east of Kabul.
It came just a day after Sarkozy returned from a surprise visit to the country and was also a blow to his struggle to defend his country's role in Afghanistan