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Expats discuss France's military role

Latest update : 2008-09-23

The French parliament voted to reinforce France's military presence in Afghanistan, a role that's still controversial in France. In Kabul, FRANCE 24's L. Menget and J. Bodin talked to French expatriates, for whom daily life is marked by insecurity.

FRANCE 24 correspondent in Afghanistan confirms disputed NATO report

Read the commentary by our International Affairs analyst Owen Fairclough.

While French parliamentarians voted to maintain France’s troop presence in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the danger and poverty that local people face in daily continued. For them, Western foreign policy is hardly a priority. But for the hundreds of French civilians who still live and work in Afghanistan, the army’s role remains a debated issue.

Both houses of the French parliament - the National Assembly and the Senate - on Monday approved the decision to send 100 new troops as well as additional transport and attack helicopters, drones, surveillance equipment and mortars to reinforce the 2,600 men already stationed in the central Asian country.

Afghanistan’s expatriate French community – some 300 people mostly working for the humanitarian sector - has been closely following the debate.

"The international community has a responsibility to the Afghan people. We overthrew a regime - for good reasons - but it would be cowardly to just pull out now and leave the Afghans to their fate," says Emmanuel de Dinechin, co-founder of Altaï Consulting.

What role for the French army?

Kabul had enjoyed a reprieve in the violence that's gripped large parts of Afghanistan, but the security situation has recently deteriorated, with Taliban insurgents gaining ground around the capital.

Some of the French reconstruction workers based in Kabul believe the French army needs to re-think its role.

"We've tried this strategy for seven years and it's not working, so we really have to try something else, and rely on the local population,” said Pascal Arthaud, director of MADERA (Mission d’aide au développement des économies rurales en Afghanistan). “And not just people in the big towns - but people in rural areas too. They can help us attain the stability we all want."

Monday’s vote was held amid a raging debate in France over whether the 10 French soldiers killed in a Taliban attack outside Kabul on August 18 died in part because they were less well-equipped than the Taliban fighters.

It was the deadliest ground attack on the international troops since they were sent to Afghanistan in 2001 to oust the hardline Taliban regime.

A report in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper citing a NATO document alleged on the weekend that the paratroopers ran out of ammunition and lost radio contact, leaving them defenseless against the Taliban guerrilla fighters.

The French government denied the report. "The reality is cruel enough without adding lies and disinformation," Prime Minister François Fillon said in his opening statement Monday.

"Without the necessary means, we can’t win over the population,” says Eshan Mehrangeais from the NGO Afghanistan Demain, "we can’t win in this country which has seen 30 years of war, 30 years of guerrilla fighting. I think people need to see an improvement in their living standards in order for them to change and not fall into the hands of the Taliban."

Winning over the Afghan people could be one of the most difficult battles the French army has to face.

Date created : 2008-09-23