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.
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The reaction to the French soldiers' deaths in a Paris mostly on vacation was mixed. An online news article from Le Monde, which – like most of the major papers' websites – featured the story as the lead item, brought comment by one reader that the attack by 100 Taliban could be "foreseen" and asked, "When will we have a debate in Parliament on this?" An editorial in the outspoken and independent Rue 89 suggested that the "meaning" of the Afghan war has been lost to many French, and called for negotiations with the Taliban in a war that seems "endlessly protracted."Skip to next paragraph
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In a nationally televised press conference, General Morin warned that while Western operations in Afghanistan had been "going well" until 2006, the Taliban were becoming better armed, larger and more effective.
France has the second-largest military deployment of any nation in the world. The French Army and special forces in particular are generally admired for their professionalism and toughness. For years, the French military was regarded as one of the few armies that would fight and take casualties without creating a major public outcry, even if disliked.
But French missions in Africa and the Middle East were part of France's own national projection of power, honor, and glory – and not part of a more abstract concept like international security, as in Afghanistan.
"They are serious professionals that go into places with their eyes open, and their intelligence turned on," says a Western diplomat in Europe familiar with the French mission. "In Afghanistan, they knew the terrain they were going into was dangerous; they knew what they were getting into. I doubt this event will lessen the French commitment."
Some 173 NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001 – with the number spiking in the past two years, as the Taliban regathered their strength.
The French troops were on a reconnaissance operation against a Taliban stronghold 35 miles east of Kabul, near the Pakistani border – considered a fluid zone of ethnic Pashtuns with sympathy for the aims of the Taliban.
The French foreign policy and military establishment has long known, French officials say, that France will need to increasingly support the NATO Afghan mission – as the US commitments abroad deepen. It has been a truism, and one used to block what are seen as excessive new enterprises like the NATO membership bids by Georgia and Ukraine, that a failure in Afghanistan would be a heavy blow for the West. The two polar opposites in French politics, the communist party, and the right-wing party of Le Pen both expressed dismay: The former was opposed to the NATO mission and expressed sympathy for the families of the soldiers. The latter offered that French soldiers should "not be getting killed for Uncle Sam."
French journalists pointed out that much of the media about the attack was controlled by the president's office.