Sarkozy calls security meet after Afghanistan deaths
President Nicolas Sarkozy promised new security measures for his troops in Afghanistan as yet another French soldier was killed there Thursday, a day after five died in a suicide blast.
Sarkozy summoned government ministers and military top brass to an emergency meeting on Bastille Day to try and find ways to keep France's 4,000 troops safe before they quit Afghanistan by 2014.
"We are now faced more with terrorist-type actions, not only military action," he said before the meeting. "Faced with this new context and to face this new context, we need new security measures."
Speaking to reporters on the Champs Elysees as he inspected the Bastille Day military parade attended by tens of thousands of people, he reiterated that the French troop withdrawal would begin this year and would be complete by 2014.
"We had a job to do and we have done it," the president said.
He repeated that, as agreed with France's NATO allies, responsibility for security in the war-torn country would be progressively handed over to Afghans themselves.
Shortly after Sarkozy spoke at the parade on France's national holiday, his office announced that a French navy commando was killed by insurgents Thursday during an operation alongside Afghan police in Kapisa province, east of Kabul.
That brought to 70 the number of French soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since 2001, when they deployed to support the US-led campaign to overthrow the Taliban regime and hunt Al-Qaeda militants.
Sarkozy said this year's July 14 holiday, which saw the French military display its might on the Champs Elysees as warplanes and helicopters roared overhead, was dedicated to soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Before arriving at the parade he visited wounded soldiers at a military hospital near Paris.
Some wounded soldiers and their families sat alongside government ministers and top officials in a tribune at the bottom of the Champs Elysees to watch as thousands of troops marched or rode by on horseback.
The five soldiers killed Wednesday along with an Afghan civilian, were aged between 27 and 38. A suicide bomber targeted them as they protected a local tribal council in the Tagab valley of Kapisa province, east of Kabul.
Wednesday's attack was the worst loss for French forces since August 2008, when 10 soldiers were killed and 21 injured after Taliban guerrillas ambushed a patrol in Uzbin, in the Sarobi district east of Kabul.
It came just a day after Sarkozy returned from a surprise visit to the country and was a blow to his struggle to defend his country's role in Afghanistan.
Even before the latest bloodshed, opinion polls showed that barely a quarter of voters backed France's role in the conflict.
While Sarkozy insists that no French "combat units" will remain there after 2014, his likely rivals in next year's presidential election are now urging him to speed up the withdrawal of French forces.
The French military is also currently in action in Libya, where the air force is taking a lead role in the NATO bombing campaign against Moamer Kadhafi's regime and has dropped weapons to rebels fighting his forces.
More than 1,600 US soldiers have been killed in the conflict in Afghanistan, by far the highest toll among the multi-national force operating there.
US President Barack Obama last month said 10,000 American troops would leave Afghanistan this year and all 33,000 personnel sent as part of a surge ordered in late 2009 would be home by mid-2012, leaving a US force of some 65,000.
There are currently up to 150,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan, including about 99,000 from the United States.
© 2011 AFP