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Daily Archives: August 20, 2008

Sarkozy heads to Afghanistan after 10 French soldiers killed

President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to travel to Afghanistan yesterday after 10 French NATO troops were killed in fighting there, and vowed France will not abandon the mission.
The troops were killed during fighting on Monday and yesterday following a Taliban ambush near Kabul that also left 21 French soldiers wounded, in the worst battlefield toll for foreign troops since the 2001 fall of the Taliban.
"In its struggle against terrorism, France has just been hard hit," Sarkozy said.
The president, who paid a brief visit to Afghanistan in December, said his trip to Kabul would be to reassure French troops serving in the NATO force that "France is at their side."
Offering condolences to the soldiers' families, Sarkozy said France would not be deterred from its mission, where 3,000 troops are serving in a NATO force of more than 40,000 soldiers from nearly 40 nations.
"My determination is intact. France is committed to pursuing the struggle against terrorism, for democracy and for freedom.
"This is a just cause, it is an honour for France and for its army to defend it," he said.
NATO is supporting the weak government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and fighting an insurgency led by the Taliban movement which was ousted from Kabul in late 2001.
The latest casualties bring to 24 the number of French troops killed in action or in accidents in Afghanistan since French soldiers were first sent there in 2002.
It was the deadliest attack on French troops since a 1983 assault in Beirut in which 58 French paratroopers serving in a UN force were killed.
Sarkozy praised the "courage of these men who accomplished their duty until the supreme sacrifice."
He said the French troops were killed during a joint reconnaissance mission with the Afghan national army in Sarobi district, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Kabul.
"Serious measures, notably in the air, were taken to support and extricate our men caught in an extremely violent ambush," he said.
France's 3,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan has been mostly deployed in the Kabul area and the province of Kapisa, northeast of the capital.
The fighting started Monday when militants ambushed an Afghan army patrol, wounding two soldiers, and French soldiers moved in to reinforce them, Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said in Kabul.
French Defence Minister Herve Morin said the 21 wounded French soldiers were in stable condition and paid tribute to the 10 troops who were killed.
"There were very violent battles that lasted several hours and an operation is still ongoing in the zone," said Morin.
Sarkozy announced at a NATO summit in April that France would send reinforcements to Afghanistan in a move that was fiercely criticised as home as another sign of French alignment with US policy.
Following a raucous debate in parliament, the Socialist opposition however lost its bid in parliament to pass a no-confidence vote against Sarkozy over his decision to send the extra troops.
Offering condolences to the soldiers' families, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also asserted that French troops would remain alongside their NATO counterparts in Afghanistan.
"Our determination is strengthened today by the memory of their courage. France will continue to fulfil its responsibilities in support of a democratic and peaceful Afghanistan and in the struggle against terrorism."


Obama close to naming Vice President pick

by Jitendra Joshi*

Speculation about Barack Obama's vice presidential nominee hit new heights as a report said he could reveal his choice for a number two as early today.
The New York Times reported the presumptive Democratic nominee had not yet notified his prospective running mate, but was focusing mainly on Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and foreign policy expert Senator Joseph Biden.
Fresh buzz about Obama's intentions came as the Democratic White House hopeful prepared to court veterans yesterday at an annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Orlando, and exactly a week before the Democratic nominating convention opens in Denver, Colorado.
Running mate anticipation was also building on the Republican side, as the Politico website and Fox News said the party's presumptive nominee John McCain would name his running mate on August 29, the day after Obama's acceptance speech before 70,000 people in Denver.
The date, if confirmed, would allow McCain to limit Obama's post convention news coverage, mark his own 72nd birthday, and build up some steam ahead of the Republican convention, in St. Paul, Minnesota beginning on September 1.
The Times, in a report on its website, cited unnamed Obama advisers as saying he reached his decision last week while on vacation on Hawaii, and the campaign was readying an elaborate rollout for his selection.
The campaign has said Obama will first inform his grass roots network of supporters about the pick in an unprecedented email and text message blitz. He was then expected to launch a cross-country tour with his new sidekick.
The paper cited Obama aides as saying the announcement would come at the earliest early today, and no later than Friday.
Of the three possible picks cited by the Times, Kaine would boost Obama's hopes of winning battleground state Virginia. He has appeal with white working class Democratic voters, but lacks foreign policy experience.
Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, would compensate for Obama's inexperience on national security and has just returned from Georgia and issued a stiff condemnation of Russia's actions in its showdown with the Tblisi government.
Bayh, popular in his home battleground state of Indiana, also has some foreign policy expertise, and might be a unity pick, having been an firm ally of Obama's vanquished Democratic foe Hillary Clinton.
The former first lady herself appeared to be a rank outsider, despite hopes of some of her supporters that she would find a place on the ticket.
There was no immediate comment on the Times report from the Obama campaign.
Obama on Monday berated McCain as an out-of-touch economic illiterate, hardening his attacks in the pre-convention run-up.
At a rally in a sweltering high school gymnasium here, Obama mocked McCain for remarking at a weekend forum with religious leader Rick Warren that only those earning five million dollars a year were really rich.
Obama noted McCain's proud boast that he always put the country rather than politics first, a line that the Republican has used to lambast his opponent over the war in Iraq.
"But I have to say it's not an example of putting country first when you say (President) George Bush's economic policies have shown 'great progress'," he said, also noting that McCain says Obama would be a "disaster" for the economy.
"Mr McCain, let me explain to you, the economic disaster is happening right now. Maybe you haven't noticed," Obama said.
Speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Florida Monday, McCain said meanwhile that while Obama had enough "ambition to be president," he seemed to lack the "judgement to be the next commander in chief."
"In matters of national security, good judgement will be at a premium in the term of the next president — as we were all reminded 10 days ago by events in the nation of Georgia," the Republican said in Florida.
McCain also highlighted his opponent's early opposition to a troop surge strategy in Iraq which Republicans, the US military and the White House credit with quelling violence.
"It was a moment when political self interest and the national interest parted ways," McCain told the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Orlando, Florida.
"Even in retrospect, (Obama) would chose the path of retreat and failure for America, over the path of success and victory."