Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 13:24 UK

French press question Afghan role

By Lucy Gill
BBC Monitoring

The French press is united in expressing sorrow over the deaths of 10 French soldiers in an ambush by insurgents in Afghanistan.

French troops in Afghanistan
Some commentators do not believe France should be in Afghanistan
But while some commentators express strong support for the French mission, others question Nato's strategy and criticise President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to increase France's troop deployment.

Laurent Joffrin in the left-leaning Liberation daily wrote that the "courageous sacrifice" of the soldiers was "the incarnation of military service and greatness".

Calling the war in Afghanistan "a tragic necessity", Mr Joffrin warned that "the worst solution obviously would be retreat".

Luc de Barochez in the centre-right Le Figaro agreed, saying that while the worsening of the situation in Afghanistan is alarming "it should not make us forget the stakes in this conflict, that are as high for Europe as they are for the United States".

However he also asked whether, even "if the aims are just, are the tactics being used to achieve them correct?" He concluded that Nato's 70,000 men "is not a lot in an immense country with poor communications. Experience has shown, however, that it is difficult to do more."

Talk to enemy?

Mr Joffrin said that if military force is proving ineffective, any solution should also include "negotiations to exploit divisions in the rebel factions that are controlling the south of the country".

But negotiations "are not a conceivable option" for President Sarkozy, following his decision in April to send an additional 700 troops to Afghanistan, argued Zineb Dryef and Pascal Dryef in the left-wing current affairs blog, Rue89.

"What is regrettable is that these decisions were made without national debate, almost on the sly," Messrs Dryef and Riche wrote.

"They were not well received by public opinion, which saw in them an alignment with Washington and also a futile threat to soldiers' lives. Not without reason, as the ambush has demonstrated."

"We should ask ourselves whether this force is uncovering the violence or creating it," Florence Aubenas, a journalist who was kidnapped in Iraq for five months in 2005, told the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur.

French troops are being drawn into a "quagmire", opined Jean-Claude Kiefer in the regional Les Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace. "They seem to be paying a forfeit to their great American ally for not participating in the Iraqi adventure," he said.

Christophe Barbier, editor of the L'Express weekly, said it is to be expected that an attack on the scale of this week's ambush would lead some to wonder whether France should scale-down its international commitments.

However, Mr Barbier warned that these arguments are "very dangerous" and recalled those used to appease Hitler in the run-up to World War II.

"The spirit of Munich is on the resurgence," he said.

"Of course we need to be in this theatre of operations. We need to be active on the major fault lines that are shaping the security of the planet and of France."

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