A picture of a Taliban fighter in the uniform of a dead French soldier drew anger in France Wednesday as the army came under new fire over its conduct in an ambush that killed 10 paratroopers in Afghanistan last month.
Paris Match magazine was condemned by politicians, the military and soldiers' families for publishing a spread of Taliban posing with their French trophies from the battle, east of Kabul, on August 18. These included Famas assault rifles, helmets, body armor, walkie-talkies and a wristwatch that the Taliban asked the magazine to return to the family of the soldier who had owned it.
A Taliban commander identified as Faruki told Match 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 Taliban coming and pissing on their coffins," the unnamed private told Europe 1 radio.
Hervé Morin, France’s Defense Minister, said that Match was advertising for the enemy. "The Taleban are waging a war of communication with this kind of operation. They have understood that public opinion is probably the Achilles’ heel of the international community that is in Afghanistan,” he said.
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 Taliban, denied being used by them. The Taliban 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 center-right party towards the French engagement. Several parents of dead soldiers have blamed Sarkozy on television for the deaths of their sons. Senior military officers have been publicly critical of the war.