Two French soldiers die in clashes with Taliban
TWO French special forces officers were killed in Afghanistan yesterday in renewed clashes with Taliban militants that threaten to further destabilise the war-torn country.
The French officers died during a firefight in the Kandahar region, the French Defence Ministry said. Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie expressed her condolences to the victims' families and reiterated her support for the coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan.
France has had 200 special forces officers in south-east Afghanistan since 2003, as part of the US command fighting remaining Taliban militants.
The announcement came amid several gunbattles in southern Afghanistan, including one that killed a US soldier. The fiercest fighting erupted late on Friday in Helmand province, then continued into yesterday with rebels ambushing a large army convoy.
In the biggest incident, suspected Taliban rebels ambushed two Afghan army convoys in Helmand, sparking gunbattles that killed 25 militants, five Afghan soldiers and a civilian.
Fighting also erupted between the insurgents and US forces in the southern Uruzgan province where the American soldier died and six others were wounded.
The latest bloodletting comes just days after a 24-hour storm of violence across Afghanistan killed more than 120 people. Last week, hundreds of militiamen attacked a town in Helmand where 3,300 British soldiers have deployed as part of a Nato task force.
The nine-hour battle began after police received reports indicating that Taliban fighters had massed in Musa Qala district. Coalition forces provided air support to drive off the militants.
The US plans gradually to hand over command of the bulk of coalition forces to Nato and withdraw several thousand of its troops from Afghanistan.
The fighting was among the heaviest since the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001 and has raised fears for the country's future. The army convoy ambush was also in Helmand, the country's main opium poppy-growing region, where drug profits are believed to fund the insurgency.
The attack reflects new confidence in the Taliban ranks that they can engage army units in full-frontal assaults. Hundreds of reinforcements had to be deployed to the area to repulse the attacks and the rebels fled on motorbikes and foot.
Four Afghan soldiers died and 20 rebels were either killed or wounded.
Violence has been steadily increasing across Afghanistan for the past 18 months. The militants have adopted new more deadly tactics, such as suicide and roadside bombings.
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