French ministers back Afghan strategy after losses

PARIS (Reuters) – French forces will draw lessons from an incident last week in which 10 soldiers were killed in a Taliban ambush but France’s commitment to Afghanistan remains unshaken, ministers said on Tuesday.

“Even if it is 7,000 km from Paris, what happens in Afghanistan still concerns our security,” Defence Minister Herve Morin told parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee.

“The aim is not military victory,” Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told the same hearing. “It is to create conditions that allow the Afghan government and people to take their destiny into their own hands.”

The 10 soldiers were killed on August 18 in rugged mountain country some 60 km (37 miles) from the Afghan capital Kabul during a fierce battle in which 21 others were wounded.

It was the worst single loss in combat suffered by Western troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion and it was France’s worst military loss since a suicide bomber killed 58 paratroopers in Lebanon 25 years ago.

The French regional commander in the area, General Michel Stollsteiner, was quoted this week as saying “we were guilty of overconfidence” and Morin pledged that lessons would be learned.

“We will of course draw all the lessons from the operation of August 18, as we draw them from all of our operations,” Morin said, adding that he would present the army’s own review of the incident to President Nicolas Sarkozy in the coming days.

But both he and Kouchner acknowledged that it was impossible to eliminate the risk to French soldiers.

“We will probably suffer further losses,” Kouchner said.

RISE IN VIOLENCE

France has a force of some 2,600 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the U.S.-led Enduring Freedom operation.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks in recent weeks but Morin said this reflected increased pressure from allied forces.

“The rise in violence which we are seeing is linked to the increasing number of operations by Atlantic Alliance and Afghan forces in zones which were previously considered sanctuaries where we didn’t go,” he said.

“It is because we are more and more active that there are more and more operations by the Taliban.”

Parliament is due to vote on whether to continue France’s engagement in Afghanistan in a special debate next month.

None of the mainstream parties has yet called for a pullout and the ruling UMP party’s majority would in any case ensure that the government wins support for its strategy.

But a recent opinion poll showed that 55 percent of French people were in favor of a pullout and the deaths of the soldiers last week shocked the country.

Check Also

Sanctions on Taliban Compound Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Difficulties

The Biden administration is trying to work around longstanding terrorism-related sanctions to facilitate the delivery …