THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Photos of Taliban bring Afghan war home to France

Show property of slain troops

By Katrin Bennhold
International Herald Tribune / September 5, 2008
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PARIS - One Taliban fighter is clad in the bulletproof vest of a dead French soldier. Another proudly shows off a French walkie-talkie. Yet another wears a camouflaged French Army helmet.

A glossy six-page photo spread published yesterday and featuring a group of insurgents who say they killed 10 French soldiers in Afghanistan on Aug. 18 has reinforced uneasiness about France's military presence there.

Published in the weekly magazine Paris Match, the spread reflected the Taliban's media strategy of undercutting support for the war in Europe and raised concern about journalists' giving insurgents a platform. Above all, it fed a broader debate about a war that is seen as increasingly protracted and deadly - and that is unpopular in several European NATO countries with troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, Defense Minister Herve Morin criticized the Paris Match photo spread .

"Should we be doing the Taliban's promotion for them?" he said on France Inter radio.

"The Taliban are waging a war of communication with this kind of operation," he said. "They have understood that public opinion is probably the Achilles' heel of the international community that is present in Afghanistan."

The 10 deaths were France's worst military loss in 25 years. Since the ambush President Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly ruled out withdrawal of French troops, and he did so again yesterday.

"Our soldiers are fighting over there to protect us from terrorism at home," Sarkozy said during a visit to Syria.

But at home in France his words were drowned out by the emotional reaction of family members of the dead soldiers to the magazine report.

"It's a shock to see our children's killers parading their uniforms, their weapons," Joel Lepahun, the father of one of the soldiers told the radio station RTL.

The images, showing nine Taliban fighters in the mountains northeast of Kabul, look largely posed, with individual fighters showing off their French trophies.

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