French defence minister visits Afghanistan
KABUL, July 19, 2008 (AFP) - French Defence Minister Herve Morin arrived in Kabul Saturday for a surprise visit to meet French troops deploying near the capital as part of Nato’s efforts against a Taliban-led insurgency. Morin flew in a day after non-government organisation Action Against Hunger (Action Contre la Faim) announced that two French aid workers had been kidnapped in the centre of the country. Morin, on his third visit to Afghanistan, was due to meet soldiers from an extra battalion of about 700 soldiers deploying to the province of Kapisa, northeast of Kabul, officials said. He was also scheduled to meet Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, a statement from the ministry said. Morin told journalists soon after arriving for his two-day visit that he had come to bring a message of solidarity for the reinforcements and to stress that success against insurgents would not come from the military alone. "Security, governance, development — these are the three major axes to return peace to Afghanistan," he said at the French embassy. The minister said the bulk of insurgents in the country were from its neighbouring countries, notably Pakistan. "It is not a matter of demonising Pakistan but reminding it of its responsibilities," he said. Pakistan is under international pressure to deal more effectively with Al-Qaeda and other militants who have sanctuaries on its territory from where they are said to be plotting an international Islamist campaign. Afghanistan depends on its international allies for help in fighting the extremist insurgency that was launched soon after the Taliban were removed from government in late 2001 by a US-led coalition. There are nearly 70,000 international soldiers in the country, most of them with ISAF and about 14,000 with the coalition. France announced reinforcements to Nato’s 40-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in April and the soldiers started deploying this month, taking to about 2,000 the number of French soldiers in Afghanistan. About half of the French soldiers in ISAF are in Kabul. Some 170 are in the southern city of Kandahar, where France has stationed six fighter aircraft for air support in efforts against the Taliban. The French military is also helping to train Afghan army officers and their special forces. Despite the growing strength of the international military deployments in Afghanistan, the insurgency has grown steadily with suicide bombings and other attacks almost every day. The two French aid workers were kidnapped from their guest house in the central province of Day Kundi in the early hours of Friday as they were sleeping, Paris-based Action Against Hunger said in a statement. The Taliban have been involved in a series of kidnappings in Afghanistan but so have criminal gangs seeking ransom.