TBILISI/KABUL - 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.

“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 in Tbilisi.

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 defence ministry.

Around 100,000 US-led NATO troops are fighting a Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan in a conflict that began a decade ago. The Taliban on Friday claimed responsibility for the suicide attack in southern Afghanistan that killed seven Georgians and wounded nine others.

The Taliban, leading the 12-year insurgency against the government of President Hamid Karzai and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF), claimed the attack on their “Voice of Jihad” website.

“The attack took place at around 4:00 pm when a hero of Islamic Emirate detonated his truck laden with heavy-duty explosives inside a large ISAF base, located on the road in Angrak Karez area” in Nawzad district of Helmand province, the insurgents statement said. Tblisi declared a national day of mourning on Friday and defence minister Irakli Alasania cut short a trip to Brussels to travel to Afghanistan at his prime minister’s request, a Georgian government adviser told AFP.

Alasania met his Afghan counterpart Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, the Georgian defence ministry said in a statement, and will visit troops wounded in the attack.