French defence minister answers Afghanistan critics

Other News Materials 21 August 2008 16:13 (UTC +04:00)

French Defence Minister Herve Morin on Thursday rejected accusations that the French military's response to a Taliban attack on its troops in Afghanistan which killed ten soldiers was too slow, dpa reported.

Morin told RTL radio that the exact circumstances of the attack must be clarified before criticisms can be made.

The French newspaper Le Monde had written on Thursday that support troops were sent to the combat zone too late, and that the patrol in which ten soldiers were killed had been under fire for four hours without help.

But Morin told RTL that a rapid reaction force was despatched "15 to 20 minutes after the firefight began" although it did take about an hour for them to reach the battle site.

In addition a second unit and helicopters were despatched, but for these operations the troops first had to secure the zone.

"These things cannot be taken care of in one motion as if with a magic wand," he argued.

Morin said that the ambush consisted of up to 100 insurgents and had been pursued with "extreme force."

Contrary to the official version, Le Monde maintained that the backup troops did not reach the attack area shortly after the commencement of the attack, that injured troops were left lying for hours after the ambush, and that friendly fire was to blame for some of the deaths.

However, Morin denied this, saying "we knew that we could not deploy F-15 fighter jets because it was not possible to differentiate between French troops and Taliban fighters.

"If bombs would have been dropped, then there would have been serious collateral damage," he said.

French Chief of Staff General Elrick Irastorza said that the French military must learn its lessons from the ambush.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon were due to attend a memorial service on Thursday afternoon in Paris for the dead soldiers.