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    French minister due in Kabul

    KABUL (PAN): The French defence minister, scheduled to arrive in Kabul today after four French soldiers were killed in a suicide attack, is expected to reaffirm troop departure from Afghanistan next month.

    On Sunday, a burqa-clad suicide bomber struck a French convoy in central Kapisa province, where the four soldiers were killed and five others injured along with three Afghan civilians.

    Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who would accompany the soldiers’ bodies back home, may also hold talks with military commanders and Afghan officials.

    President Francois Hollande, who has promised to bring combat troops home by the end of the year, announced the withdrawal would begin next month nut France would continue to help the war-torn country.

    Hollande reiterated his vow to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2012 -- a year earlier than planned, and two years before NATO allies, saying the suicide attack had not altered his schedule.

    "What happened does not change anything, it neither accelerates nor delays withdrawal plans,” he was quoted as saying by international news outlets.

    France has 3,300 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly deployed to Kabul and Kapisa. Since 2001, nearly 87 of French soldiers have been killed in different security incidents in the country.