Seven Georgian troops were killed and nine were wounded in a suicide attack in Afghanistan when insurgents attacked their base, the pro-Western Caucasus country’s army chief said Thursday.
“Seven military servicemen were killed” when a “suicide terrorist” blew up a truck loaded with explosives outside a Georgian military base in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, General Irakli Dzneladze, chief of the Georgian army joint staff, told a news conference.
The incident brings to 30 the death toll of Georgian soldiers serving in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF).
On May 13, three Georgian soldiers were killed in a similar suicide attack on their base in southern Afghanistan.
“I offer my deepest condolences to the families of our fallen heroes and to all of Georgia,” Georgia’s staunchly pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili said in a televised address.
“Our duty to their memory is to continue our path towards NATO membership,” he said.
Georgia has 1,570 troops serving in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, making the small Caucasus country of 4.5 million the largest non-NATO contributor to ISAF, according to the defense ministry.
Around 100,000 US-led NATO troops are fighting a Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan in a conflict that began a decade ago.
Despite the stubborn insurgency, war-weary international forces are seeking to hand control of security to Afghan forces by withdrawing their combat troops by the end of 2014.
Georgia has said it is willing to continue deploying troops to assist local security forces after the NATO-led combat mission formally ends.
NATO has promised Georgia membership at an unspecified point in the future.
Tbilisi's NATO aspirations have infuriated neighbor Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008 and sees any further NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union as a threat to its security.
Afghanistan suicide blast kills 7 Georgian troops