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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 18:35 GMT
French carrier to aid terror war
The Charles de Gaulle
The Charles de Gaulle has been beset with problems
France is to send its only aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean in mid-December to support the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced.

The deployment of the Charles de Gaulle and its escort follows the departure on Friday of an advance party of 60 French soldiers to help the supply of humanitarian aid.

French troops board aircraft
French troops have already left for Afghanistan
About 300 more French troops are due to follow, although the mission is being delayed by opposition from the Northern Alliance.

The 40,000-tonne nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle recently underwent lengthy repairs.

Mr Jospin announced the latest move to the French Parliament at the start of a debate on Afghanistan on Wednesday.

He said the carrier group would lend a "European dimension" to the war now being waged primarily by US forces with British support.

One of its missions, he said, would be to help stop the escape by sea from land-locked Afghanistan - presumably via third countries - of Osama Bin Laden and members of his al-Qaeda network.

The $3.5bn Charles de Gaulle - Europe's only nuclear-powered aircraft carrier - has been plagued by technical problems.

It had to abandon its first sea trials in 1999 after only 48 hours because of a fault in an engine.

The ship was due to join the French fleet at Christmas but was beset by propeller problems that have dogged it for much of this year.

It was only refloated on 8 November.

Fighters promised

France already has 2,000 military personnel in the Afghan region and has provided logistical and intelligence support for the US-led campaign.

Last Saturday, Defence Minister Alain Richard said France would send eight Mirage fighter jets to join the operation.

The advance party of French troops is intended to establish a base in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, recently captured by the Northern Alliance.

But it has been blocked in Uzbekistan after the Northern Alliance voiced concern at the presence of foriegn troops in Afghanistan.

See also:

17 Nov 01 | Europe
French troops head for Mazar
16 Nov 01 | South Asia
US jets pound Kandahar
23 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Straw pledges to avoid civil war
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