By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 19, 2008 - Ten French soldiers were killed in Afghanistan when their patrol was attacked by Taliban fighters in Kabul province during fighting that spanned from late yesterday until early today, U.S. officials said. Twenty-one other French troops were wounded in the engagement, which reportedly involved up to 100 insurgents, according to a NATO news release. Afghan security forces were with the French soldiers when enemy fighters attacked.
"As I understand it, it was a complex attack involving multiple weapons systems, small arms, mortars, rockets, and [it] lasted for several hours," senior Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters this morning.
U.S. forces in the area provided close-air support to the embattled French and Afghan troops, Whitman noted.
"There have been a couple of attacks recently," he told reporters, referring to recent insurgent assaults on a U.S. base in Afghanistan's Khowst province. Whitman demurred when he was asked if the attacks signify a shift in the insurgents' strategy in Afghanistan.
"I'm not ready to declare any sort of new [insurgent] strategy," he said.
"The attacks do symbolize the importance of the U.S.-coalition mission in Afghanistan," Whitman said. "I think it's a reflection of the fact that this is an enemy that needs to be taken on."
A senior spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force consoled the families of the fallen French soldiers.
"This is a difficult time right now for the families and friends of those who died or were injured, and we offer them our sincere condolences and sympathies," Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette said in a NATO news release dated today. "The lives of these soldiers are irreplaceable, but this loss does not deter ISAF from supporting the people of Afghanistan in their fight against the enemies of peace and stability."
In fighting today and yesterday, insurgents unsuccessfully attacked Forward Operating Base Salerno, a U.S. base in Afghanistan's Khowst province. Six insurgent suicide bombers died during the assaults, which failed to breach the base's perimeter. Ten Afghan civilians were killed, and 13 were wounded in yesterday's attack on the base.
"This is another example of the enemies of Afghanistan's complete disregard for the people of Afghanistan and the rule of law," U.S. Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, the ISAF commander, noted in a Combined Joint Task Force 101 news release. Yesterday's attack occurred during Afghanistan's 89th commemoration of its independence from Great Britain.
"I strongly condemn this callous and heartless attack on the people of Afghanistan on this highly significant day of celebration," McKiernan continued. "My resolve and that of the international community remain unwavering in our efforts to support the government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan in bringing peace and security to their nation."