French PM Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to the ten soldiers killed in Afghanistan while French Defence Minister Herve Morin and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner face questions from a parliamentary committee about the Afghan war.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy addressed the regiment that suffered the heaviest losses in last week’s attack in Afghanistan in the southwestern French town of Castres on Tuesday, while in Paris, his defense and foreign ministers faced a grilling by French lawmakers.
“You are not responsible for the death of your comrades,” said Sarkozy, standing before soldiers from the Eighth Marine Infantry Paratroopers in Castres. “Death is not a fatality for soldiers. A soldier’s fate is to go home.”
Sarkozy confirmed that relatives of the ten soldiers who died in last week’s ambush in the Kabul province would travel to Afghanistan next month to see the place where the victims were last stationed.
But he repeated that France’s commitment in Afghanistan was not an option but a necessity. “This is a fair fight that we can’t afford to lose because what’s at stake isn’t only the future of a country tormented by an obscurantist regime but the future of everything we believe in.”
The French president confirmed that 30 soldiers from the Eighth Marine Infantry Paratroopers would leave for Afghanistan to replace their fallen colleagues and continue their mission along with the 2,600 other French soldiers based there.
“Nothing would have allowed us to foretell what happened”
At the National Assembly, French Defense Minister Hervé Morin and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner defended the government’s decision to have French troops serve in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a UN-mandated force that currently numbers around 53,000 troops from 40 countries.
“Nothing would have allowed us to foretell what happened,” Morin said.
“The opposition didn’t ask for a troop withdrawal,” Roselyne Febvre, who covers French politics for France 24, noted. “But many wonder what exactly France’s interest in Afghanistan is.”
Morin presented the preliminary conclusions of the attack’s reconstitution. He called it an “extremely concerted operation” where insurgents simultaneously attacked the column of French and Afghan soldiers.
He also debunked rumours that the French soldiers were hit by friendly fire.
In an interview published by French daily Le Parisien before the hearing on Tuesday, Morin said France was examining the possibility of sending Special Forces commandos back to Afghanistan to improve the army’s ability to gather intelligence ahead of ground missions. France withdrew its special forces from Afghanistan in January 2007.
In his testimony, Kouchner warned lawmakers that France would likely face new losses even as it tried to minimise risks.
"The situation in Afghanistan remains worrying despite undeniable progress,” Kouchner said. “As the sad tragedy of August 18 reminds us, it is far from being stable.”
French troops have been serving in Afghanistan since the late 2001. In April, Sarkozy announced additional French troops would be sent to Afghanistan. On Sept. 22, the National Assembly is expected to vote on the measure.
Date created : 2008-08-26