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Latest update : 2008-09-23

Addressing the French parliament Monday, PM François Fillon announced plans to "reinforce" and equip French troops in Afghanistan. The parliament is set to vote on keeping French troops there after 10 of its soldiers died.

Read: France 24 correspondent confirms disputed NATO report



French lawmakers are set to vote on whether or not 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, by an increasingly well-organised Taliban army.


Both houses of the French parliament, dominated by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, are expected to support keeping the 2,600-strong French contingent. 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. “No one in the opposition has demanded that French troops pull out of Afghanistan,” noted FRANCE 24 politics specialist Roselyne Febvre. “But many have questioned the relevance of France’s military presence there,” she added.


A debate overshadowed by a 'secret memo'


If the outcome of the vote is not in question, a stormy debate looms after Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper quoted a NATO report marked “secret”, which said that Taliban fighters who ambushed the French soldiers in August 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 Defense Minister Hervé Morin confirmed the existence of an “officer’s account of the ambush,” denying that the document is 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, while Taliban fighters used incendiary bullets to punch holes in armoured vehicles.


Christophe Prazuck, spokesman for the French army's chief of staff, told France 2 on Sunday that French troops “were always in a position to respond to Taliban fire,” adding that “he never heard any testimonies from soldiers in the attack saying that they ran out of ammunition.”


“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.


A few thousand people took part in about a dozen anti-war protests across France on Saturday, organised by trade unions and left-wing opposition parties.


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