Three French troops die in violent storm, flooding
TAGAB, Afghanistan — A nighttime mission to disrupt a Taliban IED network ended tragically Sunday for French forces when a ferocious storm swept through Kapisa Province, killing a Marine and two paratroopers, the French military said.
The Marine died from a lightning strike, while the paratroopers got caught in a flash flood as they and the rest of the force were heading back to camp, said French Marine Lt. Col. Jean-Christophe Berry, a liaison officer at Bagram Air Base.
The overnight storm was easily visible as a rash of orange-hued lightning bolts lit up the nighttime sky north of Bagram. From the air Sunday morning, U.S. and French forces surveying the area saw swollen rivers and wet tributaries that haven’t seen a drop of water in months.
While the drought in Afghanistan has abated some in recent years, much of the country still remains exceptionally dry. The absence of rain means the absence of foliage, which can lead to flash flooding.
"It was a violent phenomenon," said Thibaut, a French captain based in Tagab, a town located about 10 miles south of where the French soldiers were operating.
For security purposes, the French military permits only the release of a deployed soldier’s first name, except for senior officers.
French authorities have not yet released the names of the three servicemembers who died.
The French soldiers taking part in the aborted operation are assigned to the forward operating base in Nijrab, said Capt. Antoine, the commander in Tagab. Roughly 200 French and Afghan personnel were involved in the effort to upend a Taliban network suspected of making and planting improvised explosive devices, he said.
Earlier this month, a roadside bomb killed two French Marines in the sector. Sunday’s deaths bring the total number of French fatalities in Afghanistan to 34.
The two French paratroopers were originally reported missing after the main body returned to camp, Antoine said. Several French and U.S. helicopters flew over the Afghanya Valley looking for the men.
"When the sun rise," Antoine said, "they found the corpses."