- Afghanistan - Taliban
Some of the French soldiers wounded in a deadly attack in Afghanistan arrived in Paris Wednesday as French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid a crisis visit to Kabul to pay tribute to the 10 French paratroopers killed in one of the deadliest attacks on French troops abroad.
Eleven of the 21 soldiers - wounded during an ambush in Afghanistan that started late Monday night and continued into Tuesday - arrived at Paris’s Orly airport. Their condition has been described as serious but stable.
“These soldiers are coming back from hell, and they are rocked both physically and psychologically,” said FRANCE 24’s Frank Berruyer, reporting from Orly International Airport. Most of the soldiers were wounded by gunfire or shrapnel from shells and rockets. “They found themselves in a ball of fire from the moment the ambush began,” said Berruyer.
The soldiers received emergency care in Afghanistan before heading home Wednesday in a medically equipped aircraft. They are set to receive further treatment at military hospitals based in the Paris region.
The bodies of the 10 killed soldiers are expected to arrive in France later Wednesday.
The medivac operation took place just hours after French President Nicolas Sarkozy landed in Kabul to meet with survivors of the attack, the deadliest on French soldiers abroad in more than 20 years.
The trip was intended to show support for the 2,600 French troops posted in Afghanistan, and to tell them that their nation stands behind them.
In a speech delivered to French soldiers in Kabul, Sarkozy praised the French efforts in Afghanistan. “You are here to defend freedom in the world,” he said. "The best way of remaining faithful to your comrades is to continue the work, to lift your heads, to be professional."
The deadliest attack on French soldiers since 1983
The 10 French soldiers were killed during heavy fighting against Taliban insurgents that erupted late Monday and continued into Tuesday in the Sarobi district, about 50 km east of Kabul. The French troops were killed when they were ambushed during a reconnaissance mission.
In what French defense officials describe as an “extremely well organized attack”, the troops were ambushed by approximately 100 Taliban insurgents. Nine soldiers were killed in the early minutes of the fighting, while the tenth was killed when his vehicle overturned on the road.
It was the deadliest attack on French soldiers since a 1983 bombing in Beirut which killed 58 paratroopers.
“The attack has sent a shockwave through the international community and the coalition forces present in Afghanistan,” Jerome Starkey, GRN correspondent in Kabul, told FRANCE 24.
Reporting from Kabul, FRANCE 24’s Claire Billet said recent Taliban attacks are turning increasingly deadly. “There is a shift in Taliban strategy in recent months,” said Billet. “They are leading better planned attacks and roadside ambushes. The regions near Kabul are now a war zone.”
Karzai warns against ‘lack of attention’
Speaking to reporters in Kabul, where he met with Sarkozy, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the deteriorating security situation in the country could be “attributed directly to our lack of attention, the allies and all of us, to the sanctuaries, to the training grounds, to the financial resources, of terrorists and the Taliban."
But Sarkozy has had to face criticism both from the opposition Socialist Party and the far right, who have questioned the relevance of reinforcing French troops in Afghanistan in the aftermath of Tuesday’s loss.
Responding to Washington’s pleas for its NATO allies to increase their contribution to fight the growing insurgency in Afghanistan, Sarkozy sent an extra 700 French troops to Afghanistan this year.
Speaking to French troops in Kabul Wednesday, the French president stood by his decision. “I tell you in all conscience, if it had to be done again, I would do it," he said.