French parliament approves prolonged Afghan presence
As expected, the lower house of the French parliament, the National Assembly, on Monday voted to prolong the presence of the country's troops in Afghanistan, reported dpa.
By a vote of 343 to 210, the results largely followed party lines, with the opposition Socialists, Communists and Greens voting against a continuation of French military deployment in the strife-torn country and the ruling UMP and its centrist allies voting in favour.
During a three-hour debate, Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced that France would deploy additional military equipment to Afghanistan as well as about 100 additional soldiers to service it. France currently has about 3,300 soldiers stationed in the country.
The new materiel includes helicopters, drones, surveillance instruments and mortars, Fillon told a special session of Parliament, convened to debate and vote on the issue.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told lawmakers, "We must not abandon our Afghani friends," and said that "Afghani NGOs have asked us to stay in the country."
The vote came 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 and by the publication, on Saturday, of a "classified NATO report" in the Canadian daily Globe and Mail alleging that the soldiers had been badly equipped.
According to the report, the French soldiers ran out of ammunition after 90 minutes of fighting and had only one radio in their possession, and it ceased functioning shortly after the fighting began.
The "secret document" also declared that the Afghan soldiers that accompanied the French troops had fled, leaving their equipment behind.
Both the French military and NATO 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 existed 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."
Fillon said the media allegations were false. "The reality is cruel enough to add to it lies and disinformation," the French prime minister said.
According to a recent survey, nearly two of three French adults oppose the presence of French troops in Afghanistan.