Taliban more aggressive and more numerous : French admiral
ON BOARD THE CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRCRAFT CARRIER, May 21, 2006 (AFP) - Taliban rebels in southern Afghanistan have become much more aggressive as their numbers and confidence have increased, the officer heading French forces providing support to coalition forces in the country said Sunday.
"We can clearly see, now that we’re in the area... that they are a lot more aggressive", Rear Admiral Xavier Magne noted.
Since May 5, the air and sea forces he commands have been providing daily backup to the NATO coalition forces that are fighting the Taliban uprising.
"Comparing the tasks our troops were presented with at the beginning and those they are facing now, you can tell they are having more problems now, which means there are much greater concentrations of rebels," the admiral said at a news conference on board the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea.
Magne cited the very heavy toll from fighting since Wednesday as evidence. Nearly 200 rebels have died, along with two French special forces soldiers in southeastern Afghanistan and one Canadian captain in the south of the country.
He also noted that the Taliban were using different techniques. They initially limited their activity to suicide bombings and explosions of makeshift devices, but in recent weeks relatively large groups of rebel forces had been engaging in open combat.
"With homemade bombs... they can only kill small numbers," Magne noted. "Now they’re attacking with proper armed units, but they know they’ve got time on their side". He said he expected the rebels would try to overcome the coalition "by wearing it out".
French Super-Etendard fighter planes have been carrying out dozens of missions in support of France’s special forces and other coalition troops operating in southern Afghanistan, as well as reconnaissance flights.
France has around 200 special forces troops participating in "Operation Enduring Freedom" in the south and east of the central Asian country.
The admiral said the Taliban had regained a degree of initiative, but added : "There is also a coalition plan in place, which aims... to move them away from areas where daily life has started to function again".
The coalition’s mission was to "isolate the rebels in areas where they can do less harm" and then to try to eliminate them once they had been isolated, Magne explained.
The Charles de Gaulle is due to end its air support and reconnaissance campaign on May 23 after nearly three weeks of flights over Afghan territory.
The French air force will carry out similar missions from a base in Tajikistan thereafter.