French defense minister travels to Afghanistan after deadly attack

U.S. Marine CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, remain docked along the flight line of HMH-463 for maintenance checks and repairs, Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, May 6, 2011.

Story highlights

  • Four French soldiers were killed in eastern Afghanistan on Friday
  • France could bring its troops back early if security is not restored
  • The U.S. Defense Department identifies six killed Marines
  • Their chopper crashed in Afghanistan, also on Friday
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet traveled to Afghanistan to discuss security with local authorities, a spokesman said Saturday, a day after Allied forces suffered heavy losses in the country.
A helicopter crash killed six U.S. Marines and a separate attack killed four French soldiers Friday, prompting Paris to consider an early troop withdrawal.
"If France does not manage to find a solution with the Afghan authorities to ensure better security of the French soldiers, then we will seriously question our military presence in the country. It is too early to speculate what actions would be taken. The minister will return when he feels he has the information and assurances he is looking for," said Col. Thierry Burkhard, spokesman for the defense ministry.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he was suspending French training operations and combat help as a result of the attack, which injured 15 others.
"The French army is not in Afghanistan to be shot at by Afghan soldiers," he said.
France could bring its troops back early from Afghanistan if the necessary security is not restored, Sarkozy said. France has 3,935 troops in Afghanistan, according NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
The attack in eastern Afghanistan followed a similar shooting last month by an Afghan soldier that killed two French soldiers serving in an engineers' regiment.
Also Saturday, the U.S. Department of Defense identified six Marines who were killed in Afghanistan when their helicopter crashed.
Jesse W. Stites, 23; Kevin J. Reinhard, 25; and Joseph D. Logan, 22, were all Marine corporals. They hailed from North Beach, Maryland; Colonia, New Jersey; and Willis, Texas, respectively.
Master Sgt. Travis W. Riddick, 40, of Centerville, Iowa, also lost his life.
Two officers were also aboard the CH-53 helicopter: Capt. Daniel D. Bartle, 27, of Ferndale, Washington; and Capt. Nathan R. McHone, 29, of Crystal Lake, Illinois.
They were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
The NATO-led force reported no enemy activity in the area of Friday's crash, but the Taliban claimed credit for bringing down the chopper.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen paid tribute to those killed and injured Friday, saying it was a "very sad day" for ISAF troops in Afghanistan and for France.
"Such tragic incidents are terrible and grab headlines, but they are isolated," he said. "The reality is that every day, 130,000 ISAF troops from 50 nations fight and train with over 300,000 Afghan soldiers. That takes a lot of trust among a lot of soldiers.
"We have the same goal. An Afghanistan that is responsible for its own security. That is what Afghans want. And we remain committed to helping Afghans."