FIGHTING close to Kabul killed ten French soldiers yesterday and injured another 21 as spectacular violence erupted across the country.
Officials said ten Foreign Legion paratroopers died in an ambush at Surobi, only 30 miles east of the capital.
Nato said they were attacked by more than 100 militants, while further east at least six suicide bombers tried to storm an American army base, close to the Pakistan border.
French troops fought through the night, on Monday, killing 27 Taleban militants, after they were pinned down by gunmen.
French officials said that the insurgents attacked a reconnaissance party on a narrow mountain pass in the Uzbin valley, at exactly 1:30pm on Monday.
Nine of the ten dead were part of the reconnaissance party, who had left the protection of their armoured vehicles. The tenth man died later in an armoured car when the road beneath it collapsed.
Military sources revealed that four of the dead were captured and butchered after the insurgents overran their positions.
The grim death toll, confirmed yesterday in Paris, is the single biggest loss of life for international troops since an RAF Nimrod crashed in Kandahar two years ago, killing 14 British servicemen. It was also the first time so many foreign soldiers have been killed in open battle since the US-led invasion in 2001.
For France, it was the worst loss of life since 1983 when 58 paratroopers were killed in Beirut, and it comes amid fierce political opposition against moves to increase the country's military presence in Afghanistan.
France will have 2,600 troops in Afghanistan by the end of the month, after the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, sent an extra 700 soldiers in response to a US call for Nato allies to provide more forces.
The attack began late on Monday, as Afghanistan celebrated its Independence Day.
The dead and wounded were from the 8th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment and the Regiment de marche du Tchad.
President Sarkozy travelled to Afghanistan last night. "My determination is intact. France is determined to continue the struggle against terrorism for democracy and freedom. The cause is just," he said.
Hours later, a Taleban suicide squad tried to overrun a large US base in Khost, just a few miles from Pakistan's tribal areas.
Three bombers detonated their vests close to Forward Operating Base Salerno, shortly before midnight on Monday.
The militants failed to hurt international forces, a US spokesman said. Three other bombers, and an accomplice, were later chased down and killed by US and Afghan troops backed by Apache helicopters.
The fighting in the city lasted more than 12 hours.
LAST week saw the highest levels of violence across Afghanistan since records began in 2001.
At least nine foreign troops, 19 civilians and 130 insurgents were killed.
Intelligence officials fear there are dozens of suicide bombers flooding into Afghanistan from Pakistan every day, while the Taleban have threatened to encircle the capital.
Nato insists that the enemy forces will never overrun Kabul, but the Taleban has succeeded in closing off Afghanistan's "home counties" by killing three foreign women on the road south, and attacking the French on the road east.
Most international organisations can only drive out of the city if they are heading north.
The attacks came as Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, arrived in Kabul yesterday for talks on how to beat the insurgents on both sides of the border.