France to begin Afghan pullout in July

France will begin to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan next month, French President François Hollande says.

He spoke of the pullout after four French troops were killed and five others injured in a suicide bomb attack Saturday in Afghanistan's mountainous Kapisa province, which borders Pakistan.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in an email from spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

Hollande restated his plan to withdraw all French combat troops from the country by the end of the year. His timetable for a pullout is a year earlier than his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, had planned and two years before other NATO combat troops.

"In the meantime, everything must be done for our troops to meet their obligations but with the highest level of security and with the greatest vigilance for the lives of the soldiers," said Hollande, who took office in mid-May.

He also asked Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to visit Afghanistan on Sunday.

French troops were in a market in Nijrab district when a suicide bomber walked up to them and detonated explosives. Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Reuters the bomber was dressed in a burqa.

There are roughly 3,400 French troops in Afghanistan. Until Saturday’s incident, 83 French soldiers had been killed in the country since the U.S.-led military mission began in 2001. That's the fourth-highest number of military deaths by country, behind the United States, Britain and Canada.