French troops mourn dead in Afghanistan

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While French troops in Afghanistan are pained by the deaths of their comrades, the task of continuing their mission goes on.

20 August 2008

CAMP WAREHOUSE - At a sprawling base near Kabul where the flag flew at half-mast, comrades of 10 French troops killed in battle with the Taliban insisted their mission goes on despite their pain.

Sergeant Major Francois Neveu was one of the few at Camp Warehouse on the outskirts of Kabul willing to talk after news broke Tuesday of the deaths in fighting east of the Afghan capital.

The 43-year-old officer said he knew one of the soldiers who was killed in the clashes, in which 21 French soldiers were also wounded.

"He was a young private first class in a company in which I served," he told AFP.

Warehouse, the main base of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Kabul, was quiet 24 hours after the incident, the deadliest for French troops since 58 were killed in a bomb blast in Beirut in 1983.

But flags were at half mast and grief was written on the faces of the few French troops walking around the base.

Some soldiers gathered around television sets to watch a live broadcast of a media briefing called by French Defence Minister Herve Morin in Paris, 5,000 kilometres away.

Morin accompanied President Nicolas Sarkozy to Afghanistan early Wednesday on a visit to show support for the 3,000 French soldiers in the 53,000-strong ISAF.

Sergeant Major Neveu is not the kind to show his emotions. "We will carry on our mission, no matter what it costs," he said.

Asked if he thought the attack showed that Taliban insurgents were getting the better of Afghan and foreign forces, seven years after a US-led invasion drove the rebels from government, he was firm.

"Not at all. This is a country that remains unstable. We knew what could happen and our comrades died in combat," he said.

"We are pained and unhappy but we have a mission to follow and we will react with professionalism."

His junior, Sergeant Pascal Pelletier, 32, has already served in Kosovo, Chad and Ivory Coast. He said he was not shocked at the loss but rather "sad and pained."

"We have to continue, no matter what happens," he said. "Doubts? Certainly not. We know why we are here."

"We try to always be ready, we are trained for that, but there is always a time when things could become dramatic, like in the east today," he said.

But still, things will not be the same for these soldiers.

"For some of us, it will be different. We don't mean fear or stress or anxiety but the way we look at the mission will be different. There will be more apprehension," said Pelletier.

At Camp Warehouse there will be no psychological treatment for the 21 wounded soldiers brought back from the battlefield. Instead they will need to rely on a "strong tradition of camaraderie, help and listening."

And while the dead will not be forgotten, the task of waging war against the emboldened insurgents goes on.

"Reinforcements have left from here, and they are already there," Lieutenant Colonel Bruno Louisfert said.

[AFP / Expatica]

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