French president in Afghanistan after 10 troops killed
French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew into Kabul on Wednesday to show support for French soldiers in Afghanistan.20 August 2008
KABUL - French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew into Kabul Wednesday and met survivors of an ambush that killed 10 French troops in the deadliest attack on international forces in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
Sarkozy touched down at Kabul airport with his Defence Minister Herve Morin and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and immediately took a helicopter to Camp Warehouse, the base for French troops on the outskirts of the city.
He spent around five minutes in a mortuary holding the coffins of soldiers killed in the fighting about 50 kilometres east of Kabul on Monday and Tuesday, an AFP correspondent said.
Sarkozy also went to the camp hospital and spoke to 10 of the wounded.
And he met some of the other paratroopers involved in what he has described as "an extremely violent ambush."
He was due to hold talks with Michel Stollsteiner, a French general who is head of troops serving in NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul and surrounds.
And he would meet President Hamid Karzai later Wednesday, the Afghan president's office said.
The French president said before he left France late Tuesday that his visit was to show the troops that "France is at their side".
"In its struggle against terrorism, France has just been hard hit," Sarkozy said.
It was the deadliest attack on international forces fighting extremists in Afghanistan since the US-led war which ousted the hardline Taliban regime in 2001.
It was also the deadliest on French soldiers since a 1983 bombing in Beirut in which 58 paratroopers were killed.
But Sarkozy has insisted France would not be deterred from its Afghan mission, for which it has 3,000 soldiers serving in the ISAF - made up of 53,000 troops from nearly 40 nations.
"This is a just cause, it is an honour for France and for its army to defend it," he said earlier.
US forces provided air support in the battle, after which the Taliban said it had destroyed several military vehicles.
Morin estimated casualties on the Taliban side at 30 dead and 30 wounded.
The French losses drew expressions of sympathy from other countries which have suffered heavy losses in Afghanistan, where extremist violence has grown every year with more foreign and Al-Qaeda-linked fighters believed involved.
US President George W. Bush offered his condolences, as did the leaders of Britain and Canada, other key contributors to the ISAF deployment.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the attack was "a disgraceful and barbaric act."
The latest deaths raised the number of international soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year to 176, most of them in attacks.
Nine US soldiers were slain in July when insurgents stormed a base in the northeastern province of Kunar, in another well-planned rebel strike that also involved scores of attacks.
Twenty-three French troops have now been killed in action or in accidents in Afghanistan since French soldiers were first sent there in 2002.
Sarkozy, who paid a brief visit to Afghanistan in December, has pushed for an expansion in France's military role despite polls showing public opinion does not support such a move.
He announced French reinforcements to Afghanistan at a NATO summit in April - drawing fierce criticism at home from left-wing opponents who saw the move as a sign of French alignment with US policy.
[AFP / Expatica]
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