KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday killed four French troops and injured five others, French and Afghan officials said, deaths that increased pressure on an already wavering NATO ally.
The new French president, Francois Hollande, told NATO allies at a summit in Chicago last month 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 other French troops were killed earlier this year by an Afghan soldier -- one of a rapid-fire series of “green on blue” attacks by Afghans against Western mentors.
Saturday’s blast occurred in the late morning in Kapisa province, east 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 a payload of 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 explosive device, or IED, 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 has pockets of Taliban activity, some of it fierce, but earlier 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.
-- Laura King and Hashmat Baktash
Photo: French soldiers practice at a firing range on a base near Tagab in Kapisa Province in 2011. Credit: Joel Saget / AFP/Getty Images