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French parliament votes to keep troops in Afghanistan


Latest update : 2008-09-23

France's parliament has voted in favour of maintaining troops in Afghanistan with a comfortable majority, more than a month after the death of ten French soldiers in a Taliban ambush.

France 24 correspondent in Afghanistan confirms disputed NATO report


Read the commentary by our International Affairs correspondent Owen Fairclough.



Both chambers of the French parliament voted Monday to maintain France’s military presence in Afghanistan after 10 soldiers were killed there on August 18, in the deadliest attack yet against allied forces.


France will beef up its mission in Afghanistan with more helicopters, drones, intelligence-gathering equipment and about 100 extra troops, Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced during a speech before the vote.


"We have decided to strengthen our military means in the fields of air mobility, intelligence and support," Fillon told lawmakers. The reinforcements will be in place in a few weeks, he added.


Both houses of the French parliament, dominated by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, were expected to vote in favour of maintaining the 2,600-strong French contingent. The senate was expected to vote later Monday.


Following the attack, the French president strongly warned against a hasty withdrawal, claiming that it would mean “the return of barbarism” in Afghanistan, leaving it to become “a new sanctuary for international terrorism.”


The opposition Socialist Party is in an uncomfortable position, since it decided to dispatch French troops in the region back in 2001.


In a speech in parliament, Jean-Marc Ayrault, head of the Socialists’ parliamentary group, announced that the Socialist Party would vote against maintaining troops in Afghanistan. Ayrault added that French Socialists were not against sending troops in principle, but disagreed with France’s “present political and military strategy that can only lead to a dead-end.” The Socialist Party demand a clear calendar for troop withdrawal and joint leadership of coalition troops in Afghanistan, Ayrault said.



A debate overshadowed by a 'secret memo'


"French forces were always able to fire back" said Fillon, referring to allegations that the ten French soldiers who died in an ambush in Afghanistan on August 18 were insufficiently equipped to fight the Taliban.


On Saturday, Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper quoted a NATO report classified as “secret”, which said that Taliban fighters who ambushed the French soldiers were better-armed than coalition troops.


Although spokespersons for both NATO and the French military have denied such a report, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Afghanistan, Lucas Menget, has been able to read its content and confirmed its authenticity.


On Monday, French Defence Minister Hervé Morin confirmed the existence of an “officer’s account of the ambush,” denying that the document was a “report”. “It is a fragmented recollection written in the direct aftermath of the attack, based on elements of the officer’s personal knowledge,” Morin told RTL radio.


“The four-page document is a classified memo meant for internal use, rather than an official report,” explains Menget. “It differs on several points from the report the French army has made public.”


The memo notably states that the 30 French paratroopers ran out of ammunition after 90 minutes, and could not face up to their better-equipped opponents. It also says the soldiers only had one radio, which was knocked out in the first few minutes of fighting and remained off air for several hours, leaving the troops out of touch. Meanwhile, according to the memo, Taliban fighters were using incendiary bullets to punch holes in armoured vehicles.


“This type of memo is not unusual,” said FRANCE 24’s Menget. “They are written after most attacks that target allied forces, to warn troops that Taliban forces are becoming better-organised and well-equipped.”


The document also revealed that Afghan soldiers accompanying French paratroopers on the day of the attack apparently fled just minutes into the fighting, a rather sensitive revelation, which the French army denies. “If this is true, it is indeed a failure for France, because the French contingent is in charge of training local troops in Afghanistan,” Menget said.


The French government faced a no-confidence motion in April over its decision to deepen France’s involvement in Afghanistan, which was defeated thanks to the governing party’s comfortable majority.


About 70,000 international troops are helping Afghanistan fight the Taliban - an extremist group which was ousted from Kabul in a US-led invasion after the September 11 attacks in 2001.



Date created : 2008-09-22