Afghanistan/death of French soldiers
Q. – The soldiers killed on Saturday didn’t die in combat.
THE MINISTER – That’s true, and it’s very significant. They were in the company of 250 men, including Afghan soldiers, for a mission starting at our forward base in Nijrab with a twofold purpose: to secure a route along a road – on which they incidentally managed to defuse an explosive device – and to make contact with local people, as they do regularly. The aim of their meetings with the elders of the village where they travelled was to identify development micro-projects in the Kapisa Valley. It was at that moment that a suicide bomber blew himself up among them, also killing Afghans. In other words, not only were the French targeted but also their work on the ground serving the local people.
Q. – The last time French soldiers died in similar circumstances – last July – President Sarkozy expressed the wish that these kinds of missions outside our bases would become less frequent.
THE MINISTER – Yes, but the difficulty when you’re dealing with attackers who don’t fear for their lives is that risk prevention is extremely difficult. Security measures were taken last summer, and one of the reasons for my visit today is to take stock again of the measures in place for these kinds of sorties.
Q. – In the meantime, are there any plans to cancel or postpone these kinds of patrols outside our bases?
THE MINISTER – Our mission continues with clarity and determination until the end of 2012, so that the Afghans can take over their security responsibilities and regain full sovereignty. Even so, it’s essential to be more vigilant about these security requirements. But we’re well aware of the difficulty. There have been several dozen attacks of this kind against NATO forces. Since the beginning of the year, there have been 125 deaths among the international forces’ ranks. That demands calm from our men, but there’s no such thing as zero risk when you’re at war.
Q. – Does this attack on our troops risk slowing down the withdrawal ordered by the President with a view to our combat troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of December 2012?
THE MINISTER – The withdrawal was due to begin next month… Basically, no: the timetable remains the same. Our combat forces will have left Kapisa before the end of the year, but the withdrawal must be carried out in conditions of security, because that’s the major risk, both for our troops and, in the second phase of the logistical withdrawal at the beginning of 2013, for our equipment.
Q. – Aren’t you afraid French people will tell themselves we’re leaving because the conditions are deteriorating and in order to have as few losses as possible?
THE MINISTER – We’re in an alliance. We’ve made commitments and we’re sticking to them. Let me remind you that all the coalition forces will have left Afghanistan by 2014. The transition isn’t risk-free, just as the [troop] presence wasn’t risk-free. Today, by witnessing the recovery of the bodies of our soldiers who died on their mission and by visiting the wounded, I shall testify to the nation’s solidarity with our troops engaged in that mission, a mission carried out with great courage./.