France in Afghanistan

Retreat, discontent, and misunderstanding

Stéphane Taillat

The last two days have been murderous for the French contingent in Afghanistan; four paratroopers were killed in a suicide attack in the Surobi district, while a Special Forces soldier was killed during operations in the Alasay Valley, in the province of Kapisa.

The timing of these incidents was hardly accidental: The goal was to strike France and its army during the commemoration of the national and military holiday that is the "14 Juillet" known as Bastille Day in the Anglophone world. But these deaths also illustrate the growing engagement of French units in Afghanistan in more intense kinetic operations. The reconquest of Kapisa, a particularly sensitive region situated on a strategic axis and marked by 30 years of war, has been a particularly costly and difficult task, one that has required French forces to put into practice their tactical knowledge and understanding of "contre-insurrection" or what Americans call COIN.

These incidents also took place as French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced the timetable for the French withdrawal from Afghanistan, following the declaration from American president Barack Obama concerning the pullout of American forces from the country. This combined with the growing number of French casualties, and public confusion over a less-than-clear strategy, have left the impression that France’s government, public and press no longer support the engagement of French soldiers in Afghanistan. This ostensible lack of support, contrasted with the jubilation exhibited by the French press following the recent liberation of two French journalists held hostage in Afghanistan since late 2009, has left many soldiers with a bitter taste in their mouths. 

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