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Page last updated at 20:39 GMT, Monday, 22 September 2008 21:39 UK

France to beef up Afghan mission

A French soldier in Kabul. File photo
French troops are part of the 40,000-strong Nato-led force in Afghanistan

France will reinforce its military presence in Afghanistan, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has said.

He told MPs, who later voted in support of the mission, that 100 extra troops plus helicopters and drones would back up its 2,600-strong force.

He admitted that France had "learned the lessons" of a Taleban ambush last month in which 10 French soldiers died.

A Canadian newspaper said a Nato report described the French as "woefully unprepared" for that attack.

France's defence minister said the report was not an official Nato document, but one officer's version of events written "in the heat of the moment".

The ambush near Kabul on 18 August was one of the deadliest attacks on foreign troops in Afghanistan, and has sparked a debate over President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision earlier this year to boost France's Afghan contingent.

Public doubts

"We have learned the lessons of the murderous ambush," Mr Fillon told lawmakers on Monday.

The French did not have enough bullets, radios and other equipment
Report cited in Globe and Mail newspaper

"We have decided to strengthen our military means in the areas of air mobility, intelligence and support," the prime minister said.

Mr Fillon said the reinforcements would be in place within weeks.

He was speaking during a parliamentary debate on whether to maintain the French military presence in Afghanistan.

Both chambers of parliament - the National Assembly and the Senate - later voted in favour of the mission.

In April, President Sarkozy said he was sending another battalion of almost 800 soldiers to north-east Afghanistan, taking the number of French troops there to 2,600.

Although Mr Sarkozy insists that France is fighting a battle against terror in Afghanistan, many French people feel they have just been sucked into America's war, correspondents say.

A total of 24 French troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002 and some French people say their country has no place in the Afghan conflict.

Officer's account

Meanwhile, a report in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, quoting a "secret" Nato document, said the Taleban insurgents were better armed and prepared than the French troops during last month's battle.

"The French did not have enough bullets, radios and other equipment. The troops were forced to abandon a counter-attack when the weapons on their vehicles ran out of ammunition only 90 minutes into a battle that stretched over two days," the paper said, quoting from the report.

Funeral for French soldiers
The loss of the 10 soldiers in Afghanistan shocked France

"One French platoon had only a single radio and it was quickly disabled, leaving them unable to call for help," it added.

Nato and French officials denied there was any such official report.

However, French Defence Minister Herve Morin later said that there was a Nato officer's "account" of the battle.

Mr Morin told RTL radio the description of the fighting was a "fragmented written account done in the heat of the moment the day after or 48 hours after the operation, using elements at the officer's disposal".

The French military denied the substance of the report.

"We were always able to respond to Taleban fire. Supplies were flown in by helicopter during the fighting that lasted nine hours," news agency AFP quoted French armed forces chief of staff spokesman Capt Christophe Prazuck as saying.

Earlier this month, French magazine Paris Match carried an interview with a Taleban leader "Commander Farouki" who claimed that they were tipped off about the French mission in their area.

The magazine also carried pictures of guns, walkie-talkies and even a wristwatch - all spoils taken from the 10 killed soldiers.

The images shocked and outraged many in France.


SEE ALSO
France shocked by images of war
04 Sep 08 |  Europe
Sarkozy pays tribute to soldiers
21 Aug 08 |  South Asia

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