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Sarkozy pays tribute to troops in Kabul

Latest update : 2008-08-24

Some of the French soldiers injured in a deadly attack in Afghanistan arrived in Paris as French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a crisis visit to Kabul after one of the deadliest attacks on French troops abroad.

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 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,” said Sarkozy.



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,” said Jerome Starkey, GRN correspondent in Kabul, to FRANCE 24.



Growing criticism at home



Although the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent years, with Taliban’s attacks getting increasingly sophisticated and coordinated, Sarkozy has made it clear that the attacks will not deter French presence in the region.



"My determination is intact. France is committed to pursuing the struggle against terrorism, for democracy and for freedom," said the president shortly before leaving for Kabul.


Speaking to FRANCE 24 at Orly airport, Jean-Marie Bockel, junior French defence minister, said, “French leaders and troops are ready to pursue and accomplish their mission on the field”.


But Sarkozy has had to face criticism both from the opposition Socialist Party as well as the several French news outlets, who openly questioned the relevance of reinforcing French troops in Afghanistan in the aftermath of Tuesday’s loss.




Another Quagmire?



The most recurring question is whether the conflict in Afghanistan is not just another war that cannot be won. French news website Rue 89 has pointed out that the number of coalition troops killed in Afghanistan has increased since the arrival of international forces in 2001. From only a few pockets of Taliban resistance, its presence has spread to most of southern Afghanistan.


“The Taliban have improved their capacity to organise themselves and maneuver,” said Jean-Louis Georgelin, chief of staff of the French armed forces.



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.”



“The Taliban are waging a propaganda war so that local populations will perceive their attacks as a war of liberation against a Christian occupying force,” Emmanuel Reinart, CEO of security expertise agency Senlis told FRANCE 24. The only solution, he maintains, is to send even more troops to Afghanistan.

Date created : 2008-08-20