A picture of a Taleban fighter in the uniform of a dead French soldier drew anger in France yesterday as the army came under new fire over its conduct in an ambush that killed ten paratroopers in Afghanistan last month.
Twenty-three soldiers were injured in the Taleban attack that killed ten of their colleagues and has fuelled calls for French forces to leave Afghanistan
Paris MatchÂ magazine was condemned by politicians, the military and soldiers’ families for publishing a spread of Taleban posing with their French trophies from the battle, east of Kabul, on August 18. These included Famas assault rifles, helmets, body armour, walkie-talkies and a wristwatch that the Taleban asked the magazine to return to the family of the soldier who had owned it.
A Taleban commander identified as Faruki toldÂ MatchÂ reporters that the insurgents would kill all the French in Afghanistan unless they pulled out of the Nato operation there.
Emotion over the report was sharpened by harrowing new accounts of bungling by French and Nato forces in the bloodiest engagement by French troops for over two decades.
“We are sickened,” a soldier at the French base at Kabul, said of the photographs. “After killing our mates it’s like the Taleban coming and pissing on their coffins,” the unnamed private told Europe 1 radio.
Joel le Pahun, the father of one of the dead soldiers, called the photographs pitiful. “It hurts a lot to see these murderers parading with the clothes of the kids that they have killed,” he said.
Eric de Lavarene, the journalist who interviewed the Taleban, denied being used by them. The Taleban account was legitimate news, he said. “No one talks of propaganda when we work embedded with Nato troops, yet information is always very tightly controlled on those occasions,” he said.
The shock of the pictures compounded anxiety over France’s involvement in Afghanistan. The ambush, which took place after President Sarkozy committed 700 new troops to the fighting, sharpened public opposition and misgivings in his own centre-right party towards the French engagement. Several parents of dead soldiers have blamed Mr Sarkozy on television for the deaths of their sons. Senior military officers have been publicly critical of the war.
Commanders are expected to be disciplined over errors that led to the deaths of the ten men and and the wounding of 23 others on the mountainside at Uzbeen, 30 miles from Kabul.Â Le Mondenewspaper reported today that a Gendarmerie investigation had found that if took three hours for reinforcements to reach the French troops after they were pinned down.
Commanders are also being criticised for failing to carry out reconnaissance before sending a column into a dangerous area. The lack of helicopter support and other air support was also a handicap.
“We were under the ridge and we felt that we had been left alone and that we had been f***ed,” one of the survivors toldÂ Le Monde. Several of the soldiers died of their wounds after being left untended for hours on the hillside, it said. The Taleban commanders denied toÂ MatchÂ French media reports that three of the dead had been taken prisoner and then executed.