French Parliament to vote on military presence in Afghanistan

Other News Materials 22 September 2008 13:26 (UTC +04:00)

Both houses of the French Parliament will convene in special sessions Monday to debate and vote on the presence of French military forces in Afghanistan, reported dpa.

The vote comes amidst a controversy provoked by the death of 10 French soldiers on August 18 in a firefight with Taliban rebels east of the Afghan capital Kabul.

The publication of a "classified NATO report" in the Canadian daily Globe and Mail Saturday, alleging that the soldiers had been badly equipped, further heated the debate.

According to the putative report, the French soldiers ran out of ammunition after 90 minutes of fighting and had only one radio in their possession, which ceased functioning shortly after the fighting began.

The "secret document" reportedly also said that the Afghan soldiers accompanying the French troops fled, leaving their equipment behind.

Both the French military and NATO have firmly rejected the charges, with a NATO spokesman denying the existence of any classified report regarding the battle.

But on Monday, French Defence Minister Herve Morin acknowledged that a document containing the charges did exist, but that it was only a "partial assessment" made by an officer of NATO's Joint Operation Centre.

"It is not a report," Morin told RTL radio. "It is an assessment, an e-mail containing several false elements."

In any case, with the ruling UMP party holding an overwhelming majority in Parliament, it is very unlikely that the media reports will have any influence on the outcome of the vote.

In a recent letter to opposition politicians, President Nicolas Sarkozy said that France's military presence in Afghanistan was necessary "because the stakes are of major importance ... It is unacceptable that a regime is installed again in Kabul that has supported and still supports terrorism."

The letter continued: "Because of our responsibilities towards the international community and the Afghan people we must stay as long as it is necessary and the Afghan government wishes it. It would be improper not to."

However, according to a recent survey, nearly two in three French adults oppose the presence of French troops in Afghanistan.