Bomber kills 4 French troops in Afghanistan: officials

A suspected Taliban suicide bomber wearing a burqa killed four French soldiers and wounded five others today in an attack on a convoy of NATO-led troops in eastern Afghanistan, officials said.

Three of the injured were in a critical condition after the attack in Kapisa province, where most of France's 3,500 soldiers in the country are stationed, French President Francois Hollande's office said in a statement.

"It is with the greatest emotion that I share the grief of the families," Hollande said. "Today all of France is affected."

The presidential palace said Hollande would make a "solemn statement" on the attack, the first fatal incident since he took over as head of state last month, at 1830 IST.

He had also asked Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to head to Afghanistan tomorrow.

The president plans to recall French combat troops by the end of 2012, a year earlier than Paris initially planned, and two years before NATO allies, raising fears over security.

On a visit to Kabul last month, Hollande said 2,000 combat troops would leave in a coordinated withdrawal this year but vowed not to abandon Afghanistan.

NATO allies have downplayed the effect of their early departure, saying Afghan troops are ready to take over. And US General John Allen, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has said there will be no drop in safety in Kapisa.

Taliban militants claimed responsibility for today's suicide attack in a text message sent to reporters.

Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP the attacker was on foot and wearing a burqa.

"This morning a suicide bomber on foot disguised as a woman with a burqa on approached the French troops who were on patrol in Nijrab. He detonated his explosives that caused some fatalities," he said.

Three civilians were wounded in the attack, he added.

But these are the first French deaths since January 20, when an Afghan soldier fired on unarmed French trainers, killing five and wounding 15.

With the latest deaths, France has now lost 87 troops in Afghanistan.

Kapisa has been included in the third of a five-phase transfer, which Afghan officials say could take as little as six months, but which ISAF has timetabled at 12-18 months.

The relatively quiet Kabul district of Surobi, where French troops are also based, was handed over to local control in April.

On his visit to Afghanistan last month, Hollande explained his decision to recall French combat troops by the end of 2012.

"It's a sovereign decision. Only France can decide what France does," he told soldiers at Nijrab Base.

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