French defence minister visits Afghanistan
French Defence Minister Herve Morin arrived in Kabul Saturday for a surprise visit to French troops deploying near the capital.21 July 2008
KABUL - French Defence Minister Herve Morin arrived in Kabul Saturday for a surprise visit to meet French troops deploying near the capital as part of NATO's efforts against a Taliban-led insurgency.
Morin flew in a day after non-government organisation Action Against Hunger (Action Contre la Faim) announced that two French aid workers had been kidnapped in the centre of the country.
Morin, on his third visit to Afghanistan, was due to meet troops from an extra battalion of about 700 soldiers deploying to the province of Kapisa northeast of Kabul, officials said.
France announced the reinforcements to NATO's 40-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in April and the soldiers started deploying this month, taking to about 2,000 the number of French soldiers in Afghanistan.
The troops going to Kapisa will be based in the strategic Tagab area, where US soldiers have been stationed, by the end of August.
Kapisa does not see the level of insurgency-linked violence of southern and eastern Afghanistan but has seen some incidents, particularly in strategic Tagab which is 50 kilometres from Kabul.
About half of the French soldiers in ISAF are in Kabul. Some 170 are in the southern city of Kandahar where France has stationed six fighter aircraft for air support in efforts against the Taliban.
The French military is also helping to train Afghan army officers and their special forces.
Afghanistan depends on its international allies for help in fighting the extremist insurgency that was launched soon after the Taliban were removed from government in late 2001 by a US-led coalition.
There are nearly 70,000 international soldiers in the country, most of them with ISAF and about 14,000 with the coalition.
Despite the growing strength of the international military deployments in Afghanistan, the insurgency has grown steadily with suicide bombings and other attacks almost every day.
The two French aid workers were kidnapped from their guest house in the central province of Day Kundi in the early hours of Friday as they were sleeping, Paris-based Action Against Hunger said in a statement.
The French foreign ministry said it was "mobilising, in Paris as well as Kabul, to obtain their release as quickly as possible."
It said that the "targeting of humanitarian personnel is totally unacceptable" while promising "discretion" in its efforts to free them.
The Taliban have been involved in a series of kidnappings in Afghanistan but so have criminal gangs seeking ransom.
[AFP / Expatica]