KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Georgia’s defense minister visited his troops in Afghanistan on Friday, a day after seven Georgian soldiers were killed in a huge truck bomb blast at their base in the deadliest single attack on international forces this year.
The bombing was the latest strike in an intense insurgent campaign to hit both international and Afghan forces as foreign troops prepare to end their mission next year after 12 years of war. Foreign forces are increasingly turning over most security responsibility to the national police and army after training them.
Defense Minister Irakli Alasania cut short an official visit to Brussels on Thursday to travel to Afghanistan. A statement from the former Soviet republic’s defense ministry said Alasania met with his Afghan counterpart, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and visited troops wounded in the bombing.
Afghan official Mohammad Omar Zwark said a suicide attacker drove the truck into the entrance of the camp in Helmand province Thursday in Now-e-Zad district and detonated it.
“It was a huge truck full of explosives,” Zwark said. “The blast was very strong.”
The explosion at the outer wall caused a building inside to collapse, killing the Georgians, NATO spokesman Col. Thomas Collins said.
All seven killed were members of the same Georgian unit, which had been deployed in Afghanistan only since April, the country’s defense ministry said.
Last month, three Georgian soldiers were killed in an attack at another Helmand base in Musa Qala district.
Known as a Taliban stronghold, Helmand has been the scene of some of this year’s fiercest fighting, with local police frequently coming under attack by insurgents trying to grab back territory.
Thursday’s bombing brought to 12 the number of international military personnel killed in Afghanistan this month, and the attack was the single deadliest incident this year for the coalition. On May 5, seven Americans and one German soldier were killed in a single day in three separate attacks.
Georgia, which has aspirations of joining NATO, has 1,545 troops serving in Afghanistan.
This week, countries in the NATO alliance met to lay out a new plan for ending their combat mission in about 18 months and shifting into a training and assistance role for the Afghan forces more than a decade after the U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban regime for sheltering al-Qaida’s leadership after the Islamic extremist group launched the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
NATO did not agree, however, how many noncombat troops it will maintain in Afghanistan after that — a key unresolved question about how to help stabilize the impoverished, insurgency-wracked nation in the years to come.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said this week only that the total size of the noncombat mission force will be “significantly smaller” than the tens of thousands of U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan now, and that decisions about force numbers after 2014 will come later.
There are about 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including 66,000 from the United States. The U.S. troop total is scheduled to drop to about 32,000 by early next year. Most of the pullout is set for the winter.