Sarkozy resolute on Afghanistan despite death of 10 French soldiers
The French president sees Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, as a matter of global security and NATO responsibility.
The 10 French paratroopers killed and 21 wounded in Afghanistan – nearly an entire platoon and the highest French casualties since 1983 in Lebanon – were from a battalion that took control of Kabul only two weeks ago. The event hit Paris hard enough to cause French President Nicolas Sarkozy, fresh from negotiating the Georgian dispute in Moscow, to leave for Afghanistan Tuesday evening to visit the troops.Skip to next paragraph
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Both Mr. Sarkozy and the clearly angry French minister of defense, Hervé Morin issued tough statements in support of the French Afghan mission – a mission Sarkozy has steadily supported as a matter of world security and NATO responsibility, in contrast with the Iraq war.
Sarkozy has slowly and successfully shifted the discussion in France toward support of a more robust Afghanistan mission. Unlike nearly all European leaders, he has even begun to adopt the terminology of a "war on terror," a deeply unpopular phrase on the Continent, and one that has not particularly caught hold at home.
"My determination remains intact. France is resolved to pursue the fight against terrorism, for democracy and liberty." Sarkozy said in a statement. "The cause is just, it is the honor of France and its armies to defend it."
French war correspondent Florence Aubemas, who has reported in the region, wrote in the Nouvel Observateur that the attack was not on French troops in particular but was aimed at NATO forces in general.
France is sending 700 troops in a wave of new deployments to Afghanistan this summer, raising its figure to some 2,600 by the end of August – and the major humanitarian donor conference on Afghanistan in July was held in Paris, with Afghan president Hamid Karzai the guest of honor.
Yet with France's first major casualties, French officials are aware they need to tread a fine line with mercurial French public opinion – pointing out repeatedly yesterday that the 10 killed in a conflict were not part of the most recent deployments of 700. During the French presidential contest of 2007, the idea of French soldiers losing their lives in any large number in a mission allied with the US was considered a political nightmare. The number of French troops Sarkozy committed to France was less than the Bush administration hoped for.