France will strengthen Afghanistan mission
French government votes to send more troops, weapons and supplies to Afghanistan.
23 September 2008
PARIS, - France announced Monday it will reinforce its mission in Afghanistan with helicopters, advanced airplanes and other resources amid debate over whether 10 French soldiers killed there were poorly equipped.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon said France "learned the lessons" from August's Taliban ambush that left 10 soldiers dead and 21 wounded, the country's worst military loss in 25 years.
"We have decided to strengthen our military means in the areas of air mobility, intelligence and support", Fillon said at the opening of a parliament debate on whether to keep French troops in Afghanistan.
The National Assembly voted in favour of continuing the mission, with the majority from President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing party outnumbering objections from the Socialists.
Fillon said helicopters, airplanes, surveillance equipment and 100 additional troops necessary for the strengthened operation will be deployed.
The reinforcements will be in place in a few weeks, he added.
But the prime minister denied a report in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper that the 30 French soldiers were no match for the better-equipped and trained Taliban fighters who attacked them on 18 August in the mountains east of Kabul.
The newspaper quoted a secret NATO report stating that the paratroopers ran out of ammunition after only 90 minutes and had only one radio that quickly lost contact, leaving them unable to call for support.
"The reality is cruel enough without adding lies and disinformation",
There was no loss of radio contact and the troops were "always able to respond" to Taliban firepower, he added.
Both NATO and the French military denied the report existed, saying the newspaper was referring to a leaked email sent by an officer to NATO leaders in Kabul that gave a partial account of the ambush.
France's armed forces chief of staff Jean-Louis Georgelin said it came from a member of a US special forces unit that was patrolling with the French troops before the ambush.
The mountain ambush was the deadliest ground attack on international troops since they were sent to Afghanistan in 2001 to remove the Taliban.
The National Assembly approved by a vote of 343 to 210 to maintain the 2,600-strong French presence in Afghanistan, one of the largest serving in the NATO-led mission.
Socialist minority leader Jean-Marc Ayrault said France was being dragged into a "war of occupation" although he acknowledged that it could not "suddenly disengage from Afghanistan".
The Senate, which is also dominated by the governing right, held a similar vote on the Afghan mission later Monday.
About 70,000 international troops -- 40,000 of them under NATO command -- are helping Afghans fight the Taliban who were forced from Kabul in a US-led invasion started after the 11 September 2001 attacks.
Critics note France's involvement in Afghanistan as a troubling sign of French alignment with US policy under Sarkozy, who is considered pro-American compared to former president Jacques Chirac.
Increasing concerns is the unstable situation in neighbouring Pakistan, where a suicide bomb attack at an Islamabad hotel killed 60 people on Saturday.
Fillon asked Pakistan to secure control over the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and said France wanted to "broaden its political and security relations" with Islamabad.
The prime minister also called on allies to redouble their efforts to avoid civilian deaths during attacks on the Taliban.
"A bomb must not create more enemies than it eliminates", he said.
[AFP / Carole Landry / Expatica]