SUROBI, Afghanistan — Heavily armed insurgents mounted two of the biggest attacks in years on Western forces in Afghanistan, killing 10 French soldiers in a mountain ambush and then sending a squad of suicide bombers in a failed assault Tuesday on a U.S. base near the Pakistan border.
The French soldiers were on a reconnaissance mission when they were ambushed Monday afternoon by a force of about 100 militants in the mountains of Surobi, an insurgent redoubt 30 miles east of the Afghan capital of Kabul.
France's top military official, Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, said most of the French casualties came in the minutes after the soldiers ascended a mountain pass. Battles ensued and 21 French soldiers were wounded.
French Defense Minister Herve Morin said about 30 militants were killed and 30 wounded, while Afghan officials said at least 13 militants were killed. Taliban fighters and militants allied to renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar operate in Surobi.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew into Kabul late Tuesday in response to the casualties among his troops, the highest number since French troops came to the region. The visit was his first since France agreed to send an additional 700 troops to help boost the beleaguered NATO mission in Afghanistan.
"In its fight against terrorism, France has just been struck severely," Sarkozy said in a statement, adding: "My determination remains intact."
The suicide attack Tuesday on Camp Salerno, the American base that serves as the logistics hub for the war's eastern front, began just after midnight when a team of attackers dressed in military fatigues was spotted on the horizon.
Afghan and U.S. forces confronted the militants some 1,000 yards from the base entrance, while fighter aircraft attacked from the air. Once surrounded, three suicide bombers detonated themselves, and three more were shot to death, NATO said in a statement. It said a seventh militant was also killed and two NATO soldiers were wounded.