France pays tribute to the 10 soldiers killed in an ambush in Afghanistan on Tuesday. President Nicolas Sarkozy conducts a ceremony on Thursday to honour their memory at the Invalides monument in Paris.
As France prepares to pay a state tribute to the 10 soldiers killed in Afghanistan in one of the deadliest attacks on French troops abroad, there were questions about the circumstances that led to their deaths.
The soldiers will be honoured Thursday with state funerals at Les Invalides, the golden-domed monument in Paris where France’s war dead are commemorated.
Ten flag-draped coffins were flown into Paris late Wednesday as relatives of the dead mourned their losses.
“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 a deadly fire-fight in the Kabul province earlier this week, leaving behind two children.
The paratroopers were killed in a battle with Taliban militants in the Sarobi area at the edge of Kabul province in Afghanistan that began late Monday and continued into Tuesday. Twenty-one soldiers were injured, eleven of whom were brought back to France Wednesday.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy will preside over the ceremony Thursday, along with Prime Minister Francois Fillon.
Questions surround the incident
But even as France prepares to mourn 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