After Canada, now it’s France’s turn to ask: What’s happening in Afghanistan?

August 19, 2008

Girl holds her brother at refugee camp outside Kabul/Adnan AbidiLast week the Canadians were soul-searching about their presence in Afghanistan after three female aid workers, two of them Canadian, were killed in an ambush. ”(The) Canadian deaths in Afghanistan underscore the most troubling aspect of the West’s strategy there,” said the Toronto Star. “Put simply, it isn’t working.”

Now it is the turn of the French to ask the same questions after the deaths of 10 French soldiers in a battle with Taliban fighters: What is happening in Afghanistan? Or, for some, what are we doing there?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France was “determined to continue the struggle against terrorism for democracy and freedom” after the biggest loss of French soldiers in combat since the Algerian war that ended in 1962.  But French Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande demanded answers to the many questions he said were raised by the deaths. “What are the aims of this war?” he asked. “How many soldiers are needed to achieve the objectives?

Comments on the website of French daily Le Monde were tempered by mourning for the dead. Some blamed the United States for “this crazy war which the Americans have dragged us into”; others anguished about whether they were fighting a “just” war in line with French beliefs in human rights.

Afghan woman walks past French soldiers in Kabul/Ahmad Masood“We are talking about the defence of the free world,” wrote one person, “and these soldiers died for democracy fighting the Taliban, who want to send us back to the Middle Ages. The soldiers’ bodies are not yet cold and already the Taliban collaborators are reacting…”

But that in case, asked another, “when are we going to decide to go and defend Georgia against Russian aggression?”

“The invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 2001 was supported by a very broad international consensus,” was the reply. “W. Bush leaves in a few months. So what do we do? Pack our bags and leave the Afghans to go back to civil war?”

It is clear that the war in Afghanistan has climbed back up to the top of the agenda in countries which sent troops to fight a war which, unlike Iraq, had been supported by domestic opinion after 9/11.  But now seven years on, will the voting public change its mind? Or are people simply waking up to the reality of the Afghan campaign, which by many accounts is getting uglier by the day?

Spare a thought for the people inside Afghanistan. “Taliban are really close to capital nowadays,” wrote the blogger Afghan Lord last week. “Horror is spreading fast among the people; the residents of Kabul are really worry what will happen in the next coming weeks.”
     

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