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AFGHANISTAN

French soldier killed in Afghanistan

An insurgent shot dead a French soldier on Sunday in the northeastern Afghan region of Kapisa, the French presidency said in a statement.

“It is with great sadness that the president of the republic learned of the death this morning in Afghanistan of a lieutenant from Colmar’s 152nd infantry regiment,” the statement said.  

The lieutenant’s death, which took place during a support mission for the national Afghan forces, brings to 74 the number of French soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001.  

“While deadly, these recent operations do not dent France’s determination… and reflect the intensity of the insurgents’ desperate attacks,” the presidency said.  

According to French military sources, the incident occurred when French and Afghan forces were conducting a search operation in the south of the Kapisa region, around 10 kilometres south of Tagab.  

Bertrand Bonneau, an army spokesman, said that the operation was part of France’s involvement in preparations for a handover of full security responsibilities to homegrown Afghan forces. 

The dead soldier was identified as Camille Levrel, a 36-year-old officer who had also served in Kosovo and Chad.  

A French soldier was killed and four others wounded on Thursday in Kapisa. 

Out of the 74 French soldiers killed since Paris contributed troops to the US-led operation in Afghanistan in 2001, 22 died this year alone.  

Around 4,000 French troops are serving in Afghanistan, most of them in Kapisa, and President Nicolas Sarkozy has said all will be withdrawn by 2014.

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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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