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France hails fallen troops' bravery in Afghanistan

Latest update : 2008-08-22

French President Nicolas Sarkozy presided over a ceremony to honour the 10 French soldiers killed in Afghanistan and hailed their "struggle against barbarism" at Les Invalides memorial.

25/07/07: Kapisa, a test for France in Afghanistan

16/11/07: Taliban-istan - two sides, one war

As the grieving families of the 10 soldiers killed in Afghanistan looked on, French President Nicolas Sarkozy honoured France’s fallen heroes at a solemn ceremony in Paris Thursday.

Speaking at a ceremony at Les Invalides, the golden-domed monument in Paris where France’s war dead are commemorated, Sarkozy hailed the “valour, courage, comradeship and solidarity” of the soldiers.

“All of the French nation pays tribute to 10 of its sons who paid the ultimate price, who laid their lives down for their country,” said Sarkozy.

The 10 paratroopers were killed in a battle with Taliban militants that began late Monday and continued into Tuesday, in the Sarobi area at the edge of Kabul province in Afghanistan. Twenty-one soldiers were injured, eleven of whom were brought back to France Wednesday. The attack was the deadliest for the French army in more than 20 years.

Flanked by French Prime Minister François Fillon and his cabinet ministers, Sarkozy praised the fallen soldiers’ contribution to the “struggle against barbarism, darkness and terrorism," before adding, "I want all lessons to be drawn from what happened."

’He died a great fighter’

France has been in mourning after Tuesday’s incident, the worst for any single coalition country in Afghanistan since 2002.

“They fought to the death for twelve hours. What more can I say?” Sandrine Devez, widow of Staff Sergeant Devez, told FRANCE 2, a French TV station. She added: “He died a great fighter. He deserves a medal.”

Her husband died in the deadly fire-fight, leaving behind two children.

Questions surround the incident

But even as France mourns its dead, there were questions about the preparedness of the troops as well as the military response on the ground.

Responding to criticism that the soldiers were too young and inexperienced, French Defence Minister Herve Morin said a professional army is “inevitably” composed of young soldiers.

There has been a growing debate about what actually happened.

An unnamed soldier interviewed in the French paper, Le Monde, said they only had assault rifles and that they ran out of ammunition during the attack.

French media reports also raised the issue of delayed air support. According to the daily, the French troops were under enemy fire “for nearly four hours without reinforcements”.

“When we reached 50 meters from a ridgeline, the firing started. It didn’t stop for six hours. The attackers had elite shooters. They outnumbered us and were waiting for us,” the soldier told the newspaper.

According to the official statement from the French Defense Ministry, nine soldiers were killed within minutes of the firefight starting, and the tenth was killed when his vehicle overturned.

French defense officials are investigating the incident, according to Gen. Elrick Irastorza, Army chief of staff. “Every time we have an incident like this, we have post-experience procedures,” Irastorza told reporters. “We examine what happened and what could have happened.”

While Sarkozy has vowed to continue French assistance for NATO’s anti-Taliban operations in Afghanistan, the French president has had to face criticism both from the opposition Socialist Party as well as from several French news outlets who openly questioned the relevance of reinforcing French troops in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the loss.

In the latest in weeks of intense fighting between NATO troops and Taliban insurgents, three Polish soldiers and more 30 militants were killed in the Laghman province, near Sarobi, according to a coalition statement released Thursday.

Date created : 2008-08-21