By Laura King, Los Angeles Times –
KABUL — A suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan killed four French troops and injured five others Saturday, French and Afghan officials said, deaths that increased pressure on an already wavering NATO ally.
The new French president, Francois Hollande, told North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies last month at a summit in Chicago that France would end its combat role this year, two years ahead of schedule, rebuffing appeals to stay in the fight longer.
Support for the Afghan war, already waning in France, slipped sharply after four French troops were killed in January by an Afghan soldier, one in a series of “green on blue” attacks by Afghans against Western mentors.
The attack Saturday occurred in Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul, the main area of operations for French forces. Provincial officials said the bomber approached a joint Afghan-French patrol in the village of Pul-e-Khwaja in the Nijrab district and detonated explosives.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force confirmed the deaths of four Western troops in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, without specifying their nationalities or the location.
In a separate incident, military officials said a fifth member of the NATO force was killed by an improvised bomb in eastern Afghanistan.
Gen. Abdul Hamid Irken, the Kapisa provincial police chief, said NATO forces cordoned off the area after the explosion.
A member of the provincial council, Najibullah Rahimi, cited witnesses who said three civilians were also hurt.
Kapisa province has pockets of Taliban activity, some of it fierce, but this year the province was put on the list of areas where Afghan forces would move into the lead in providing security.
That process is to be completed nationwide in 2014, when NATO pulls out its remaining combat troops.