Page last updated at 06:54 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

French Afghan assault concludes

French troops on a military vehicle during Thursday's operation
The French say the operation was a demonstration of force

A major assault by coalition troops in Afghanistan's eastern Uzbin Valley has concluded, military officials say.

French military spokesman Rear Admiral Christophe Prazuck told the AP news agency that the offensive had been a success and its objectives achieved.

He said that 1,100 coalition troops - which included 800 French legionnaires, together with US and Afghan soldiers - were now withdrawing.

Ten French soldiers were killed in the area in 2008 in a Taliban ambush.

Heaviest tolls

"The objective was to go into a place where nobody has ever been before," Adm Prazuck said.

Map of Afghanistan

He said that the offensive was launched "to show these insurgents that we can go where we want when we want".

Adm Prazuck said several American soldiers were wounded in the operation in the Uzbin Valley east of Kabul - including American special forces who were targeted from a neighbouring valley.

Coalition forces say that while 75% of Uzbin Valley had been under their control, one corner of it had remained in the hands of insurgents.

Twenty-one French troops were wounded in the August 2008 ambush, in one of the heaviest tolls suffered by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

The French codenamed the latest offensive Septentrion. It followed weeks of negotiations with local villagers.

Last year's ambush was in the area of Sarobi, some 50km (30 miles) east of Kabul.

At the time it was seen as a warning that insurgents were closing in on the Afghan capital, which was also thought to be the heaviest loss of life suffered by the French military since 58 paratroopers were killed in Beirut in 1983.

The aim of the latest offensive was also was to plant an Afghan flag in a strategic village in the Uzbin valley, French military officials say.

After several hours' progress, they came under rocket-propelled grenade and heavy machine-gun fire from the insurgents, officials said.

The French responded with shell fire, backed up by French and US air support.

Initial reports said that five US troops were injured - three seriously - and evacuated by helicopter to Bagram air base.

The battle continued for around 90 minutes. A French spokesman said at least one Taliban fighter was killed and three injured.

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