KABUL: Ten French NATO soldiers were killed in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan, officials said on Tuesday, the deadliest ground attack on foreign troops here since the US-led war was launched in 2001.
The shock ambush also left 21 French troops wounded, and prompted French President Nicolas Sarkozy to announce he would immediately head to the country, where recent monthly death tolls for foreign forces have topped those for Iraq.

News of the attack came as the resurgent Taliban attempted a mass suicide attack on a US military base, in a defiant reminder that tens of thousands of international troops have not been able to keep the Islamic militants at bay.

“Yesterday 10 of our soldiers… were killed in Afghanistan, 21 others were wounded during a joint reconnaissance mission with the Afghan national army,” Sarkozy said in a statement issued in Paris.

“In its struggle against terrorism, France has just been hit hard.”

The ambush took place in the district of Sarobi, just 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Kabul, the Afghan capital, which has been increasingly targeted by the Taliban insurgency.

Around 100 insurgents attacked a patrol of French and Afghan troops, said NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), under which about 3,000 French soldiers serve.

The fighting began on Monday and lasted into Tuesday, it said in a statement.

“The initial patrol was reinforced with quick reaction forces, close air support and mobile medical teams. During the engagement a large number of insurgents were killed,” ISAF said.

“There was fierce fighting throughout the night,” said Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, who said at least 13 Taliban fighters had been killed in the clashes.

The extremist Taliban said it had attacked ISAF troops in Sarobi and blown up several vehicles. “We have inflicted heavy casualties,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said.

Before the latest fighting, only around a dozen French soldiers had lost their lives in various incidents in Afghanistan since the French military deployed to the country in 2003. Sarkozy, due to arrive in Afghanistan early on Wednesday, said his trip to Kabul would be to reassure French troops serving in the NATO force that “France is at their side.”

US President George Bush offered his condolences, the White House said.

“The president was briefed on that this morning during his intelligence briefing, (and) sends his condolences to the loved ones of those lost, as well as those wounded,” spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.


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