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NATO denies airstrike killed French troops

  • Story Highlights
  • Ten French soldiers killed Tuesday in fighting near the Afghan capital of Kabul
  • French president and defense minister visit Wednesday, pay tribute
  • Sarkozy held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, says Afghan government
  • About 1,670 French troops serve in Afghanistan under NATO's ISAF
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(CNN) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited French troops outside the Afghan capital on Wednesday as they mourned the deaths of 10 soldiers killed in fighting with Islamic militants.

"The nation pays tribute to the memory of your 10 comrades," Sarkozy told the troops. "They fulfilled their duties to the fullest, and it cost them their lives, which reminds us that being a soldier is a job like no other."

Sarkozy was joined in Afghanistan by French Defense Minister Herve Morin.

The ten French soldiers were killed Tuesday in fighting near the Afghan capital of Kabul after 100 insurgents attacked a patrol.

French and NATO authorities said at least 21 other soldiers were wounded in the fighting, which occurred in the Sarobi area in Kabul province, northeast of the capital.

Sarkozy visited some of the wounded at a military base located in eastern outskirts of Kabul, known as Camp Warehouse.

A military transport returned 11 of the more severely wounded soldiers to France on Wednesday for additional treatment, French television showed.

Sarkozy later held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to the Presidential Palace, before the French president left Afghanistan. Video Watch Sarkozy reaffirm France's commitment to Afghanistan »

The French troops died in clashes that began late Monday afternoon and continued into Tuesday, when the casualties occurred, French officials said.

The French president issued a swift reaction to the killings, saying that his "determination is intact" to continue "this battle against terrorism for democracy and liberty."

"The cause is just. It is an honor for France and its armies to defend them," said Sarkozy.

The deaths of the French troops were the deadliest of a flurry of attacks in the country in recent days, and they occurred during an upsurge of killings this year among U.S. and allies forces in Afghanistan.

Last month, nine U.S. soldiers were killed in fighting in eastern Afghanistan.

There have been other large-scale troop deaths during the war, some during aircraft accidents.

In May 2006, 10 American soldiers were killed when their helicopter went down during combat in eastern Afghanistan. But the crash was not the result of enemy activity.

In September 2006, 14 British troops were killed in a plane crash in southern Afghanistan believed to be due to a technical problem and not enemy action.

In June 2005, 16 American soldiers and sailors were killed when their chopper was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in eastern Afghanistan.

U.S., British, Canadian, and Dutch troops have been performing much of the combat in Afghanistan. The United States has been urging other countries in the NATO-led alliance to help ease the burdens of those troops on the front lines.

About 1,670 French troops serve in Afghanistan under NATO's International Security Assistance Force, according to ISAF's Web site. Before this incident, a total of 12 French troops had died in several incidents during the Afghan war, mostly in combat.

As for the latest fighting, NATO said the initial patrol -- which included Afghan forces -- had been "reinforced with quick reaction forces, close air support, and mobile medical teams." It said "a large number of insurgents were killed."

Gen. Zahir Azimi, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, told a news conference on Tuesday that Afghan army forces rushed to the battle scene soon after the attack took place.

He said 27 militants were killed and 14 were wounded in the fighting and 13 of the bodies were recovered by the Afghan army. He said one of the dead militants was identified as a Pakistani national.

The Taliban posted a Web statement saying its forces attacked an "American" convoy, killing 20 soldiers and destroying five military tanks. It also said foreign forces later Tuesday bombarded the region and killed five Taliban militants and several civilians.

This and other incidents came after authorities tightened security on Monday in anticipation of militant attacks on the country's Independence Day.

Several suicide bombers struck an American base in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, about 12 miles from the border with Pakistan, but U.S. and Afghan forces repelled the onslaught.

Seven insurgents were killed in the attack on Forward Operating Base Salerno, including three suicide bombers who blew themselves up after forces from the base encountered them more than 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) from the base, ISAF said in a statement.

ISAF said it suffered no casualties.

Gov. Arsallah Jamal of Khost province, where the U.S. base is located, said four commandos -- presumably Afghans -- were injured after the militants struck late Monday.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said 15 suicide bombers with small arms and machine guns entered the base and inflicted heavy casualties -- claims that the NATO-led force and Khost governor dismissed.

That attack came after a suicide car bombing outside the same base killed 10 Afghan civilians and wounded 13 others Monday, the U.S. military said. Two other would-be bombers were killed before they could carry out attacks, Jamal said.

Afghan forces stopped a second would-be car bomb near the base, performed a controlled detonation and detained a suspect, the NATO-led force said.

In southern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber with explosives tied around his body struck a Canadian foot patrol on Tuesday in the Kandahar province district of Panjwayee, local police said.

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The bomber and an Afghan interpreter for NATO forces were killed and a NATO soldier and a child were wounded, police said.

The attack occurred as troops chatted with villagers in the district's main bazaar. The Taliban, in a Web statement, said 11 foreign soldiers were killed or wounded in the attack.

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