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Paratrooper deaths- reactions in France

Dylan Kissane is a doctoral candidate in the School of International Studies of the University of South Australia. He has published articles on international relations theory in peer-reviewed journals in Australia, Hungary and Romania, presented papers at conferences in Australia, Israel and across Europe and has produced two working papers for Argentina’s Centre for International Studies. He lives in Villeurbanne, France 


The deaths of 10 French soldiers in Afghanistan in an ambush around 50km from Kabul represent the largest single day loss of life by French forces in a combat zone in 25 years. In the quarter century since terrorists from Islamic Jihad (or Hezbollah, depending on who you read) in Lebanon took the lives of 58 French servicemen in a bombing in Beirut the French forces, while often deployed, have not suffered the losses that they have today. Richard asked for a piece on the reaction to the deaths in France and, while it is difficult to sum up the reaction of the people and the press in a few words, the feeling seems to be a mixture of shock and anger.



i-Tele, the most popular local cable news station, has been running ‘Urgent’ scrolling updates for the last couple of hours and it seems that every second or third story is an update as more information about the deaths comes to hand. Reporters are live at the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and various deputes (the equivalent of Australian Federal MPs) are chiming in with their thoughts for the killed and their families. The news that the President will be in Afghanistan tonight to speak to commanders and troops is being greeted as the right thing to do only a few months after France deployed a further 700 troops to aid in defeating the Taliban and their terrorist allies. The multi-language France24 news channel is taking a similar line, though its reporters on the ground in Afghanistan are making sure to explain that such attacks on NATO troops are a daily occurrence. One report (in French) reminded viewers that while 10 soldiers were killed and around 20 injured, these are neither the first to be killed while in Afghanistan nor will they likely be the last. Considering that the government is assuring the country that they will continue their deployment as part of the wider counter-terrorism strategy of France, one can only assume, sadly, that the reporter is correct. BFM, another cable news channel, has a reporter on the ground in Kabul who is being interviewed every 15 minutes by phone against a background of file footage of what, one has to admit, looks to be a rather less dangerous road than the one that upon which the French soldiers were killed. BFM has nothing that anyone else isn’t already reporting and I imagine that nothing else will be ‘real news’ until the names of the killed are released or the President touches down in Kabul.



The press will run with this tomorrow; it’s sure to be the front page of all the major papers. For the moment the online editions of the newspapers are running the story on their own ‘front pages’, though most of the information seems to me to be wire copy. L’Express, a weekly newsmagazine similar to Time or Newsweek, quotes a Taliban spokesman who claims that the ambush of French soldiers was in response to air strikes that killed 5 Taliban fighters and 15 civilians. It also notes that 176 NATO soldiers have lost their lives so far this year in Afghanistan. 20minutes, a free, weekday newspaper, is the first I’ve seen that identifies the precise units of the dead. One is from the department of Oise in Picardie, north of Paris and the other is from Tarn in the Midi-Pyranees, close to the Spanish border. We have a friend who serves as a doctor in the Army down that way but a quick call to my wife confirms what I had hoped: he is not currently deployed to Afghanistan. 20minutes also makes a point of noting that – before today – only 14 French soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan. Today’s toll now seems even more devastating. Le Figaro, a centre-right daily and the journal we normally buy, has nothing that anyone else isn’t reporting, save a reminder of the day in 2004 that France lost 9 soldiers in Ivory Coast. The newspapers Le Monde and Le Parisien and the newsmagazine Le Point all seem to be relying on AFP copy. This will change by tomorrow morning.



President Sarkozy will be in Kabul tonight and his statements so far – all of which stress the French commitment to anti-terrorism and the mission in Afghanistan – present a position of strength. He has assured the soldiers and the country that their compatriots inside ‘The Hexagon’ are standing by them. There will be no ‘cutting and running’ by Sarko over this despite the loss of life. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was caught a little on the back foot by the news. He has been busy the last few days flying backwards and forwards to Georgia and the east of Europe trying to broker a peace deal there. Today he was in Brussels but is returning to Paris as I type this (2pm Paris time). Journalists tried to get a comment as he was leaving Brussels but he gave them nothing of substance. He’ll most likely be all over the news tonight with Sarkozy out of the country and will add to the condolences he has offered to the families of the dead. The Socialist Party, the major non-government party, hasn’t managed to get anyone onto the TV with a response as yet. The last update on the news section of their website is from more than a week ago and is an obituary for a former Socialist Party leader. Segolene Royal, the face of the Socialists in France, will more than likely be on the news tonight, though I wouldn’t think she’ll do much more than agree with Sarkozy’s position (more on why I think this below).


The ‘Feeling’

So if that’s how it is being reported and that is the response so far by the politicians, what’s left? The response by the people, obviously. Being the middle of the day and at least a few hours before I’ll be heading to the bar for a glass or sitting down to dinner I don’t really have much of a way of gauging how people think outside of the rather unscientific method of asking my wife over the phone and chatting with the guy next door when he came home for lunch.

The guy next door was shocked but not surprised. Shocked at the number killed but not surprised that it happened. As he shrugged to me, “You spend enough time in a dangerous place like Afghanistan and these things are bound to happen”. He’s right, of course, but it doesn’t make it any less shocking.

My wife reacted a little differently. I was the first to let her know what had happened – the benefits of working with cable news in the background, I guess – and in her wonderful French-Australian accent she told me the best thing for France to do was to go in and “kick their arse”. She was happy Sarkozy had flown out for Afghanistan and reckons that the French won’t lose heart for the mission nor have anyone seriously calling for withdrawal.

My feeling is that she is right. The French people were vehemently against the Iraq War and most I meet remain that way. There is a strong anti-Bush feeling even among those of the political right and an underlying anti-Americanism that manifests itself from time-to-time in the form of protests or newspaper op-eds. Yet at the same time the French have made the differentiation between the Iraq War (which most think is a ‘bad’ war) and the conflict in Afghanistan (which most see as a just war). There is no real debate about whether the French should be in Afghanistan and – save for the fringe left and fringe right – there is no serious political party or group calling for withdrawal. While all would recognise, like my neighbour, that more deaths are not only possible but probable, I doubt this will dissuade them from their support for the mission. If anything the deaths today and those to come will harden the resolve of the French to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Prayers will be said in the churches, synagogues and mosques of France tonight for the fallen and then, in the morning, this country will again take up its arms in the international effort in Afghanistan. If the Taliban thought that they could scare France into retreat they have sorely underestimated their opponent.

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John Pratt: "The US and its allies are using the same tactics in Afghanistan that were tried and failed in Vietnam. This war is likely to end in exactly the same way."

What? With the political Left actively supporting the Taliban and then lying about it for decades after?

And John Pilger doing a documentary "exposing" the horrors of Taliban rule to the world years later? And blaming the US for it?

Maybe Nike can set up a factory in Kabul and Student Travel can run holidays there.

Reports of 76 civilians killed in Afghanistan

"Seventy-six people, all civilians and most of them women and children, were martyred during the operation by coalition forces in Shindand district of Herat province," the ministry said.

The dead were "19 women, seven men and the rest children all under 15 years of age," it said.

"The interior ministry, while expressing its profound regret because of this incident which happened by accident, has sent a delegation of 10 people to the area and more details will be announced once the investigation is completed".

If the death toll is confirmed it would be one of the highest for civilians in the battle to fight the extremist Taliban, who were ousted during a US-led invasion in 2001.

The ministry said an unknown number of civilians were also wounded, with some of them in a critical condition.

The police chief for western Afghanistan, Akramuddin Yawer, had also said 76 people were killed in the incident and 15 houses were destroyed in strikes. "Taliban are included but their number is unknown," he said.

The killing of women and children is going to turn the Afghanistanis away from the NATO forces. Our forces in Afghanistan are being forced to use airstrikes and artillery in a guerrilla war. The lesson has not been learnt that airpower will not win a guerrilla war. Airpower is being used because we do not have enough troops to do the job. The US dropped more bombs on Vietnam than were dropped in the whole of WWII.

"More bombs were dropped by American planes in the Quang Tri province in Vietnam than in the whole of Europe in World War II," said Tony Edmonds, professor of history at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and author of the book The War in Vietnam. "It's one of the most bombed places on the planet. Of course, 10 to 15 percent of those bombs never exploded—and are just rusting away in the jungle."

The US and its allies are using the same tactics in Afghanistan that were tried and failed in Vietnam. This war is likely to end in exactly the same way.

the mote

Thank you, John Pratt.


Marilyn Shepherd

That is a valid point, alrthough it is also understood that every soldier hopes/expects to be part of the victory parade.

What is distinctive in such as this escapade in Afghanistan, is that the US,eg, is so derisive of its allies.  Perhaps the French are equally contemptuous of the US. There is, in fact, no united opposition...it is fragmented and often hostile to other forces supposedly on the "same side".  Interesting.

Gee and all we did was invade

It never ceases to amaze me that countries believe their soldiers should be free from being shot after they have invaded and occupied someone else's country.

Are we there yet? Why? Oooooops killed one of our own...

"French troops 'killed by Nato jets'

Sarkozy said he had no regrets about sending 700 more troops to Kabul REUTERS

Reports that 10 French soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan after being mistakenly attacked by Nato aircraft are to be "looked into," officials for the military alliance have said.

France's Le Monde newspaper quoted French soldiers who had survived the ambush near Kabul on Monday saying they were hit in a "friendly fire" incident.

The soldiers told the newspaper they waited for four hours for back-up after being ambushed.

But when Nato planes finally arrived they hit French troops after missing their target, the newspaper quoted the soldiers as saying.

A Nato official said on Wednesday: "I have nothing substantive to confirm or deny this particular suggestion. ..."


And all that publicity. Don’t expect any news retraction methinks at the same level as the initial news announcements-every 15mins on ABC NewsRadio. Would explain the condition of the bodies. No doubt final confirmation will be in REALLY small print.

Does this mean that Moslems will not be targeted in France and the American areas will be instead? Ho-hum.

All this for the pipeline to India. Ah well.

Hey Dylan, hope you will cover any final retraction and the reaction and (lack of?) reporting to the same extent and analysis level – should, of course, the US have bombed the French to pieces as this Reuters report suggests. Hmm, maybe Reuters is a bit less "sound" now it lost one of its own to flechettes. Hmmm.

So, why are we there again? Osama? Keep down an Islamic government? "Stop terrorism" WMD rapid monkey attacks etc....Why are we there? Evidence? Now, that would be a discussion worth having in the media before we lose more young lives and limbs.


More developed

Angela, more reports are coming out regarding the air strikes around the ambush. The Australian has a piece up that reflects what we're seeing on TV here:

French Defence Minister Herve Morin says there is no evidence US warplanes accidentally killed any of 10 French troops who died in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan.

"There was fire from machine guns on American planes that were guided by American special forces and we have no information that enables us to consider that the French soldiers were killed under fire from NATO planes," he said today...

The Pentagon said yesterday it had no information that close US air support resulted in French casualties, while a NATO official in Brussels said the alliance would look into the report.

It seems then that the NATO air support was US support but it still remains to be seen if it was responsible for any deaths. So far we have the US and France saying no, the soldiers claiming injuries but no deaths and NATO looking into it. The story continues to develop...


Hey, Angela, I read the Le Monde piece a few minutes ago and it doesn't quite conform with the suggestion that the US bombed the French to pieces. The Le Monde article not only doesn't ascribe any deaths to the air strikes (though it implies at least some injuries) but it also doesn't identify the national origin of the NATO member that provided the air support.

The Le Monde article quotes soldiers who were there - a pretty reliable source, one woud think - but none of the soldiers claim that the air strikes killed anyone at all. They do claim that that some of the air strikes "touched" the French soldiers but this does not translate as killed; more likely it is closer to 'injured' . Considering that 21 were injured it would seem likely that - at the very least - the NATO strikes injured some French troops.

Also, the Le Monde piece and the extract you quoted in your comment (the link didn't work for me for some reason) do not identify the national origins of the air support: both only mentions NATO. The French have 700 of their air force in Afghanistan and there are other air forces serving under NATO command there, too.

Whatever the reality behind this developing story, the cable stations aren't going with the story that NATO troops killed any of the French soldiers....yet. Should it emerge that the NATO strikes did kill one or more then you can be sure they'll run with it like a Jamaican sprinter in Beijing. Note, too, that it is possible that the national day of mourning (see below) is playing a part in this story not developing as quickly as it might.

The cable news channel I watch has now moved largely back to covering the Olympics and the situation in Georgia as well as a few domestic issues - IR reforms and the cost of living among them - that have overtaken the deaths in Afghanistan as someone's opinion of 'newsworthy'. Should NATO clarify it's position - there's no comment confirming or denying anything from them as yet, it seems - I'll be sure and add it here.

Peter, the same article echoed your view from yesterday that the ambush was a success. From the same article (rough translation):

The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Jean-Louis Georgelin, speaking at a press conference in Paris, described it as "a well mounted  ambush."..."The [French] section chief was wounded in the shoulder immediately, which contributed to the disruption," said General Georgelin...the attack corresponded to "a pattern of classic ambush."

Today is day of hommage national aux victimes (something like "national day of mourning") in France. The President will be at a service at the cathedral at Invalides in Paris along with most everyone else in politics and the armed forces from 11h30 this morning. The service, in line with French läicite precepts, Richard, will be an ecumenical one. Following that there will be a military service (also at Invalides) and the soldiers killed will be post-humously decorated before the President speaks to the country.

(As a side note, Invalides is the final resting place of a bloke who shares the same birthday as Justin.)

We do not have the political will to win in Afghanistan

Throughout history, the wars soldiers fear are the ones where military muscle is not backed up with political will and skill. The Americans lost in Vietnam because they were neither prepared to fight to the knife nor clever enough to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. But big armies can beat insurgencies. The British did it in Malaya and it looks as if the US and the Iraqis are doing it in Iraq now. The war in Afghanistan can be won, but only if the allies take it seriously. If they don't, there will be more casualty statements such as the French one this week.

An extract from an editorial piece in the Australian.

With the Taliban closing in on Kabul it is time for the politicians to either withdraw our troops from Afghanistan or put enough troops on the ground to win the war.

A former US commander has said that the number required to do the job would be about 400,000.

In an interview to Spiegel, a German magazine, the outgoing ISAF Commander Mc Neill confessed having inadequate trained force to effectively counter terrorism in Afghanistan.

NATO has only 47,000 soldiers instead of a required strength of 400,000 with a shortfall of 260,000 men.

Where would the extra troops come from? Is the US and other countries including Australia willing to reintroduce conscription? Or will they just put the burden on troops already at breaking point using a stop loss program?

Stop-loss, in the United States military, is the involuntary extension of a service member's active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term of service (ETS) date.

Let's face: it we do not have the political will to win the war in Afghanistan and we should withdraw immediately. To do anything else is putting all our troops at risk for little or no gain. It is a rerun of Vietnam armchair generals urging more action but not willing to pay the price themselves.

Did I, Richard Tonkin?

Accuse you of being cryptic, that is?

I wouldn't take any notice of my views, if I were you.  Obviously, they're irrelevant to our society....hence Guantanamo et al. 

Your views?

You're far from alone, F Kendall.  Shame is beginning to set in, thankfully.

Whatever the original publicised intent of going to Afghanistan, like Regime Change in Iraq it appears that the necessity of creating a "stable regional political  environment" will have our troops in the country for decades. 

Too late, Richard Tonkin

We have seen, in Russia, how outsiders saw and reacted to our economic system. We will see in the future, the way that we showed and taught others to treat individuals.

And you accuse me of being cryptic F Kendall?

Or maybe it's my lack of the history :)  The second half of your post I comprehend fully, but I'm totally lost on the first. (?)

GDP - that's why

"Now, why did we go to Afghanistan again?"

Gross Destructive Profit, er, GDP.....

That is US GDP - we should stick to blowing up Tasmania.

A question for Dylan

What's the reaction from the French Islamic Community?

Islamic community

Richard: "What's the reaction from the French Islamic Community?"

Not really sure, Richard. It's certainly not anything like the protests, car burnings (Car-B-Qs) and other such things that the guys in the suburbs get up to from time to time. Walking around at lunch time today (I live in a city with a reasonably large Muslim population) I didn't get the impression that there was anything special going on.

As far as media and political organisations go the story seems to be the same. Oumma.com is an moderate Islamic news site but it has not yet updated the latest news (from yesterday) to include anything on the deaths in Afghanistan. The OIEF site (French Union of Islamic Organisations) has not updated with anything on the deaths and CFCM (French Council on the Muclim Faith) haven't been on the TV, at least as far as I've seen.

As far as I can tell there hasn't been a specific reaction from the Islamic community - but then again I haven't seen one from the CRIF and the Jewish community or the Catholic community, either. One of the effects of laïcite, I guess.


I've never come across this before, Dylan. Thanks. If only it could be extrapolated globally...


While it is not a new notion it really came to the fore a few years ago during the debates over religious symbols in public schools. There is a reasonable account of the issue, the debate around it and its resolution here.

A BBC report from a couple of years ago includes the following on the notion of läicité:

The French state could not allow any proselytising in public buildings - least of all schools, where the citizens of tomorrow were being taught.

The insistence on schools as religion-free zones goes to the heart of the French idea of citizenship.

The Republic has always recognised individuals, rather than groups: a French citizen owes allegiance to the nation, and has no officially sanctioned ethnic or religious identity.

Although it can be carried to extremes...this view of citizenship is fundamentally non-discriminatory and inclusive.

It should also be noted that this lack of official recognition of an ethnic or religious identity or heritage means we don't actually know with any precision just how many Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists or, alternatively, ethnic North African, Chinese, Romanian or Australians live in France. The government doesn't know how big the minority population is in France and estimates of the Islamic population, for example, range from a little more than 2 million to more than 6 million. In our city there is a significant (and it sometimes feels like a majority) North African population and also a pretty sizeable Jewish population but no one can tell you how many North Africans, ethnic Jews or Aussies live round these parts because they really don't know. Laicité might be one way of separating church and state but the implications aren't always clear or useful.

Dylan Kissane

"O'Reilly has at least one thing explicitly wrong there".

O'Reilly has a lot wrong there. That was my point. Being factual, or correct, has absolutely nothing to do with his popularity: it is in the promotion of emotion. And, endorsing "old Europe" as decadent, cowardly, effete is endorsing popular opinion. As he does, so successfully.

The concept of allies, united in a common cause and with a concern about the fate of their friends, has, as Dylan Kissane points out , apparently been quite lost in Afghanistan.

Such as Guantanamo...

...Richard Tonkin, is so obviously wrong, so obviously wicked, so obviously a contradiction of every value, hope dream and wish that I once understood that we stood for, that I usually cannot bear to bring it into my consciousness.

So, I haven't seen that transcript. But, now I will.

Such as Guantanamo

F Kendall, I reckon we should be getting our apologies ready for that one too. There aren't any other countries that have acted as co-warders of an inmate, are there? While every other nation was trying to get its inmates out, Australia approved of it.

Sorry, wandered off-topic. Now, why did we go to Afghanistan again?

Why we are there

Originally it was presented to us as "getting Osama Bin Laden" - a legitimate idea at the time. It is cynical of me to suggest that we weren't likely to long pursue the son of people who were not only family friends, economic allies, but given extraordinary privileges after 9/11....but, in fact, that aim soon faded away. So why are we there?

Dylan Kissane says that these deaths "will harden the resolve of the French to bring peace to Afghanistan." Cynical again to suggest that the withdrawal of all western troops would quickly bring Afghanistan closer to peace.

The Northern Alliance and the Taliban are evidently very similar. No one there has asked us to sort out their squabble.

\Why can't we leave these people alone?

Winning is not on the map

Napoleon loved maps; he was also born on my birthday; that's two out of three things we have in common. Napoleon's understanding and use of maps and terrian were a major reason for his military successes.

I reckon NB would never have had delusions of invading and occupying such geography taking into account the home team who are always quite happy to do what they have done for yonks. Fight the silly buggers who dare invade - for ever how long it takes.

When it's all over and the silly buggers go home (as always) the home team fight amongst themselves - as they have done for yonks.

We ain't gunna win in the Stan, none of the silly buggers have yet; you can read it in the map.

So that makes three things Napoleon and yours truly have in common. We would stay away from the Stan and leave it to the silly buggers.

One day the COW will retire hurt from the Stan and with nothing to show (sans tears, sorrow and lots of bullshit from politicians) we will wonder what the fuck we silly buggers were thinking.

BTW; wasn't it all about getting OBL, can't remember really and whatever happened to OBL anyway?

PS. On October 7th this year we will enter our eighth year of fighting in the Stan (for whatever the reason) - and things are getting worse - you don't need a map to get the feeling  this adventure will end up like all the rest.

Bloody O'Reilly

O'Reilly? Right before US Saturday night niews. Absolute shocker. Have you seen V for Vendetta yet, F Kendall? A major character, "The Voice of Britain", is dramatically similar.

Did you see the transcript from last night's Lateline I posted on the Guantanamo thread? I'm left with the feeling that the Guantanamo ethic wasn't enforced by the TV show, but that the TV show (FOX of course) was created to propagandise the "necessary torture" ethic.

If O'Reilly says it's a good thing, then it isn't. QED

Cheese-eating surrender monkeys

The immensely popular (on Fox) Bill O'Reilly says that "once again the US is trying to do a noble thing...improve the lives of people was around the world, and protect our own lives at the same time."

"Some Nato countries like Canada, Britain, Australia and Poland are aggressive in the fight", he says. "Others are not."

Undoubtedly the French are included in the "others".

This is a great leap forward from his previous broadcasts, where he has said that the US soldiers are the only ones fighting, and those from other countries are cowards, hiding in safe places.

The slight acknowledgement of these French deaths from the US administration perhaps suggests that they take their opinion from Bill O'Reilly.

Oh really, O'Reilly?

"Some Nato countries like Canada, Britain, Australia and Poland are aggressive in the fight", he says. "Others are not."

Undoubtedly the French are included in the "others".

O'Reilly has at least one thing explicitly wrong there and, further, it would take an unfair twisting of the facts to suggest that France is not doing its part in Afghanistan.

The error he makes is obvious: Australia is not a NATO country. While Australia is in Afghanistan, they are not there as part of NATO. Here's the list of NATO countries and Oz ain't on it.

The twisting of the facts is in thinking that France is not aggressive in the fight in Afghanistan. Take a look at the contributions of the NATO countries (and Australia) in Afghanistan and see who's putting in and who is not. The latest French figure (after the 700 troops were added earlier this year is approximately 2600 men. In comparison, Britain has 8530 in theatre, Canada has 2500, Poland 1140 and Australia 1100. After the US, Britain and Germany, France has the most number of troops in theatre.

Further, in case one imagines that these soldiers are being deployed in 'safe zones', the French have lost four times as many soldiers as O'Reilly's "aggressive" Poland and more than three times as many soldiers as "aggressive" Australia. I usually like to watch O'Reilly but on this he's just wrong and ignorant.

As for the Americans, President Bush offered his condolences and, through a spokesman, offered "heartfelt thanks for the sacrifice that they [France] are making, and the commitment that the French are making, to help secure Afghanistan". The US State Department also expressed their sadness at the news. I'm not sure what else one could expect from the US on this matter.

By way of comparison, however, a quick search of Kevin Rudd's website reveals no comment from him as yet on the deaths in Afghanistan despite mentioning the conflict, the Taliban and terrorism in a press conference today. In fairness, though, Mr Rudd is pretty busy trying to keep Bacardi Breezers out of the hands of 17 year old girls and pursuing closer relations with New Zealand so perhaps he has a little too much on his plate to get a statement out.

Thoughts on the morning after

Michael: "Are those Dylan's personal thoughts or those of the general French public?"

As I acknowledged from the outset, it’s hard to sum up the feelings of an entire country in a few words. I think, though, that it’s fairly representative of how the French are feeling and a couple of things this morning have reinforced this view for me.

First and foremost is the editorial in this morning’s Liberation. Liberation is the major left-wing daily newspaper with circulation up around the 140,000 mark. It’s editorial this morning was headed “Tragique nécessité” and, roughly translated, it reads in part:

How to win a war militarily unwinnable...

This is the challenge facing the French soldiers with the other forces of democratic countries present in Afghanistan. The courageous sacrifice of ten of them (and 21 wounded), the embodiment of greatness and military service, shows that this war that has lasted for September 11 can hardly find a solution on the ground. Driven by a ruthless willingness to death, the Taliban have almost managed to encircle Kabul, to deprive the lawful government control over a large part of the territory and make the mission of international forces increasingly dangerous. In an old military proverb there is new meaning: you can do everything with a bayonet except sit on it.

The worst solution would clearly be the withdrawal. Legitimate, unlike the war in Iraq...the intervention in Afghanistan was a tragic necessity.

Who would want to offer anything except for a ringing victory against the most violent Islamist fanatics? But the solution, even if it requires military supremacy, can only be political...The courage of soldiers requires intelligence policies...

To me this suggests that even for the mainstream left the question is not “should we be there?” but “how should we win there?”. Questions are raised as to the policy and strategy of the NATO forces but not their place as part of the international force in Afghanistan.

Over at Le Monde there are nearly 90 comments on yesterday’s online story about the deaths near Kabul. In the comments you find a fair bit of difference in the views of the commenters, though I wonder if this is reflective of the country or the proportion of the people who chat about politics online. Whatever the case, there exist a broader variety of views than on the cable news and in the papers. These views include those who are adamant that sticking and fighting is the right move:

The war in Afghanistan is a just war not like the Iraq fiasco! It would be crazy to withdraw...Let's be supportive of our soldiers and proud of belonging to the Western world that can sacrifice his men out of love of Liberty – Stephane C

Those who see oil and the US behind the deaths:

Our guys are dying for U.S. oil (and a little for Total, but so little ...) The attacks of 2001 were a great excuse to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. History will judge... – Franz C

And there are those who don’t question the engagement but, like Liberation, urge that the strategy must be effective for the troops to succeed:

The soldiers certainly deserve respect. To ask questions is not to insult them, au contraire. Afghanistan is a harsh country, very marked by Islam. To send a few thousand soldiers there, seen primarily as non-Muslims, in the belief that we will be able to defeat the Taliban is to show great naivety. The duty of the politicians is to set clear goals and give, in the case of a military intervention, ways to overcome the enemy. – Jackpote

There’s even a couple that are strongly supportive of the war:

It's disrespectful to the memory of the victims to say that these soldiers died for a doubtful reason. The fight against the Taliban is no doubtful reason. What is doubtful is a call not to wage war against the Taliban on behalf of the anti-Sarkozy groups or the regular Ameriphobes...These soldiers that face the green fascism [colloquialism for Islamism over here- DK] are the honour of our country. – Kamel

There’s obviously debate, then, Michael, but it is not a debate that – as yet – seems to be anywhere other than online. With all the cable news channels, the print media and all of the political parties (save for Le Pen and, I’m guessing here, the Revolutionary Communist League that will release a statement later today) committed to staying and winning in Afghanistan any debate is muted.

Does that put you on the fringe left? Maybe in France – but different countries have different political contexts. A voter from Australia who supports private hospital cover, wants to make it easy to choose private education for their kids, thinks that HECS is a pretty good thing and that cutting back on the dole for people who don’t even bother to look for a job is a good thing – your typical centre-right voter in Australia? - would find themselves at least on the right-wing of the governing centre-right UMP party and probably even further to the right and voting for one of the smaller, less-mainstream right parties as I did when I voted here for the first time. In Australia I am a Liberal party voter, here I am a minor party voter (the Mouvement pour la France which picks up about 2% of the total vote and is considered a "conservative, traditionalist and economically liberal party”). Different contexts, different politics and a different location for where one fits on the left-right spectrum.

So invading soldiers got killed -- why the angst?

Dylan, an interesting piece, but interesting to me that the death of ten soldiers — anybody's soldiers — generated this amount of angst.

Surely everybody understands that if you pick up a gun with the intention of using it against others — whether it be in the police or the military — you become a target. Go wandering around in some other people's country, attempting to tell them how they ought to be living, and no matter how superior your weapons and military, they are going to figure out a way to kill you

.No matter how one attempts to gild the lily, that is what the invaders in Afghanistan are doing. What surprises me is how few have been killed, and how little use of technology is being used in the design of the weapons the Taliban are using. For instance the drones that are being used both for surveillance and as killing machines have to be emitting a signature that can be used as a fix for a rocket propelled explosive device, and I suspect that it would take very little to knock one of them out.

It ought not take a lot of effort to design a multistage explosive device to destroy a tank, and even less to develop a weapon to bring down a gunship. These are the type of weapon that small, fast moving groups of fighters require and why they are not being developed, or have not been developed, is of far more interest to me than is the death of a few soldiers.

Not the attack but the number lost

Peter, I think the shock was that so many of France's soldiers were lost in a single incident. As well as the ten dead there were another 21 injured (some of these are now live on TV arriving in Paris) and it sits as the largest single day loss of life for France since Beirut. If there is any greater angst than 'normal' (whatever that is) this would likely be the reason.

For what it's worth, I don't think that anyone in France or elsewhere imagines that soldiers are not targets in Afghanistan or anywhere else that this country takes up arms (we currently have 12,000 troops deployed outside of France including in Afghanistan, Central Africa, Kosovo and Ivory Coast). People are not shocked that their soldiers were ambushed but at the number of lives lost as a result of this brutal ambush.

On another issue, I mentioned yesterday that I thought the attack would be all over the papers. I was right - to an extent. Le Progres (links go to image of front page) and Le Figaro - both centre-right or right leaning - ran with the story on page one. The left-leaning Liberation did the same, though it should be noted that a full front-page picture is standard cover fare for that newspaper; this is no 'special' cover. France Soir seemed undecided between running the attack story or one on the national soccer team...so they put both up front. Le canard enchaine suffered from being a weekly rag: they must've already been printing this week's issue when the attack happened so it missed page one altogether. L'Equipe - the daily that knows exactly what its readership wants - stuck with soccer and the Olympics. The sports daily isn't known to delve too much into politics unless it involves TV rights so this is not entirely unexpected..

Brutal ambush?

Dylan, people are not shocked that their soldiers were ambushed but at the number of lives lost as a result of this brutal ambush.

I guess that that is where you and I differ. It was a successful ambush. How many Afghanistani have been killed by rockets fired from a drone or aircraft where they have no weapon capable of retaliation?

Is a French soldier’s life worth more than a Taliban's? What about the lives of the civilians killed? Are they of lesser value?

If there is any moral right in any war, in my view it lies with those defending their country. I may not like the way they run things, may not like their habits, but providing they are not threatening others outside their country, the problem is for them and their countrymen to sort out.

What the world needs most of all is for the US to go home, take its missile defence nonsense with it and sort out its own problems. Then the world needs to look to arming the downtrodden in individual countries with weapons enough to make them really competitive, and leave them to sort it out amongst themselves.

Only when a greater power invades to thieve the resources of another country ought the ‘world’ intervene, but historically on such occasions the various organisations fail to take any action.

Peter, can we really do that?

Peter Hindrup: "Then the world needs to look to arming the downtrodden in individual countries with weapons enough to make them really competitive, and leave them to sort it out amongst themselves. Only when a greater power invades to thieve the resources of another country ought the ‘world’ intervene, but historically on such occasions the various organisations fail to take any action."

I have some problems with that.  Burundi springs to mind - hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children hacked to pieces. There was no great power invading there - just people sorting things out themselves. Cambodia - no big power invasion for resources there either.

The victims often beg the world to intervene, and it does not - to its shame.   

Brutal and effective

Peter, I don't doubt the success of the ambush but neither do I doubt its brutality. The President himself described the attack as "an ambush of extreme violence" and there are TV reports (not confirmed by the Ministry of Defence yet) that some of the bodies were dismembered by land mines.

No one doubts the success of the Taliban ambush but neither should one imagine that efectiveness and brutality are mutually exclusive.


Dylan, the two most effective ‘ambushes’ that I know of involved the Irish and the mafia.

On the day that the Mountbattens' yacht was blown up the IRA (presumably) set a truck loaded with some tons of military grade high explosive beside a road in some rugged valley, and took out a substantial chunk of a passing British convoy.

The evacuation choppers came in, loaded the wounded, and while the bods doing the loading were gathered around on the last load, the Irish pushed the button and took out the choppers along with pretty much everybody else.

The mayor of somewhere in Sicily was being a pain — to the mafia that is — tensions were high, and the mayor was returning from a trip so there was massive security at the airport. To every bodies relief there was no hint of trouble.

The mayor’s motorcade was humming along a stretch of country road when the mafia hit the button. The explosion took out 400 metres of road.

When I was about twenty I worked a part time job with an old English guy who had been in India in the British army. He used to tell me tales of soldiering.

One day he related how the inhabitants of some village had risen up armed with spades and hoes and such like and massacred the British troop. He then described with relish how the British soldiers had ridden to the village and in a great battle had put men, women and children to the sword.

When I suggested that in fact he had things a little twisted, that the British attack was in fact the massacre and the Indian attack the battle, he became really hostile and refused to have me work with him.

Strange how desperately people twist facts in an effort to justify the unjustifiable, isn’t it?

Someone should tell Kevin Rudd

Michael de Angelos: "I certainly believe that going into Afghanistan was a mistake."

I know. It's not like Iraq. Someone should tell Kevin Rudd.

Richard:  Ninth for the day, Eliot.

There is no real debate

"There is no real debate about whether the French should be in Afghanistan and – save for the fringe left and fringe right – there is no serious political party or group calling for withdrawal. While all would recognise, like my neighbour, that more deaths are not only possible but probable, I doubt this will dissuade them from their support for the mission."

As I would think is the case here Dylan. There was, from memory, large accord on the "mission" in Afghanistan from its conception.

It is worth wondering where the "project" in Afghanistan might now be had the US administration the attention span of a fifteen year old rather than an eight. And that demeans eight year olds around the globe.

There was no absolute urgent need to invade Iraq when it did. That need was palpably manufactured. In the rush to Saddam's Oil Ministry the US ceded Afghanistan to those who were interested - largely "our" warlord thugs, the Northern Alliance. All since has been an involved process of patching the competing power blocks whilst the Taliban (and other "warlords") gradually aggrandise themselves.

The US is in no position to commit further troops to Afghanistan. Its commitment levels in Iraq are only made possible by the employment of an army of mercenaries that is larger than its military force and makes it possible to avoid a draft.

The US, having been served its dozen natural oysters for entree, went straight to the dessert in Iraq. Afghanistan, the main meal, suffers. We have not abandoned them though Tony Blair. Just neglected - for a far juicier prize - might be all.

Father Park

A good report

It's always handy to get a report like this from the "inside" and from a person living in the local area. I've wondered how the French would react to these deaths – indeed, I was surprised and had no knowledge that French troops were actually there (considering I still get silly email jokes about the French from Yankee friends).

The only think I question in Dylan's report: "There is no real debate about whether the French should be in Afghanistan and – save for the fringe left and fringe right ".

Are those Dylan's personal thoughts or those of the general French public?

I certainly believe that going into Afghanistan was a mistake. I suppose I could be from the "fringe left" but I doubt it.


"Our soldiers should not be killed for Uncle Sam," he said.

- Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Says it all, really.

Our soldiers should not be killed for Uncle Sam

Mr Sarkozy announced French reinforcements to Afghanistan at a NATO summit in April, drawing fierce criticism at home from left-wing opponents who see the move as a sign of French alignment with US policy.

Following a raucous debate in parliament, the Socialist opposition however lost its bid to pass a no-confidence vote against Mr Sarkozy over his decision to send the extra troops.

The far-right also weighed in with similar criticism today.

"These soldiers were doing their duty, but they did not die for France. They died in an unending war that the United States is waging in that country for its own interests," said far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

"Our soldiers should not be killed for Uncle Sam," he said.

NATO is supporting the weak government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and fighting an insurgency led by the Taliban movement which was ousted from Kabul in late 2001.

The president, who paid a brief visit to Afghanistan in December, pushed for expanding France's military role in Afghanistan despite polls showing public opinion did not support such a move.

It is not very often that I end up on the same side as Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The tragic loss of these ten French paratroopers will make strange bedfellows of us all. It is obvious that the Taliban are getting stronger in Afghanistan. The generals are asking for more troops but most countries are at the peak of their commitment. The result is that the troops are vulnerable and the death toll rises. We do not have the political will to increase troop levels to a capacity to win the war so we should withdraw immediately.

U.S. commanders are asking the Pentagon for up to 10,000 more troops for Afghanistan.

The request was a subject of discussion when President Bush met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon on Wednesday.


"I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq," Mullen told reporters at the Pentagon. "Afghanistan has been and remains an economy-of-force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there."

"The Taliban and their supporters have, without question, grown more effective and more aggressive in recent weeks, as the casualty figures clearly demonstrate," Mullen said. ". . . We all need to be patient. As we have seen in Iraq, counterinsurgency warfare takes time and it takes a certain level of commitment."

Former ISAF Commander General McNeill.

McNeill: Each army has a formula as to how to determine what you need in the way of security forces for a counter insurgency. If you use the US doctrine, which is based on population and land mass, the figure for Afghanistan comes out well over 400,000 troops.

We are putting our troops lives at risk by not giving them the support they require to do the job.

On the chess board

What really interests me is that Bush and Rice have only sent out spokespeople to send condolences on their behalves.   Mustn't make waves, I guess.  Or is it that it's not worth disturbing Dubya's summer vacation?  As usual?

Are this attack, and the one on the U.S. base, just coincendental occurences on the day after Musharraf's resignation, or is there more to it?

As well, with the recent US claims that al Qaeda are moving from Iraq back to Afghanistan, and a lack of US troops to follow them, is this an easy demonstration of manpower superiority?  


What's the solution, a friendly invasion of Pakistan?

Dylan, many thanks for this.  No doubt as France rises for the day there will be plenty said. 

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