PARIS – French warplanes will attack suspected Afghan strongholds of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network in missions beginning within two weeks, Defense Minister Alain Richard said Saturday.
Richard spoke a day after President Jacques Chirac said France would commit combat planes to the U.S.-led military mission and the nation sent its first ground troops to the region.
The defense ministry said up to 10 Mirage 2000 bombers would be used in the missions Richard said were aimed at "attacking the infrastructure and remaining refuges of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan."
France had already committed a small number of aircraft to the war effort, but they were used in spy missions, not in an attack role.
In his speech Friday, Chirac said France would not let up in its support of the fight against bin Laden and his "murderous madness."
"This action will continue until the heart of the terrorist network, and notably bin Laden, are neutralized," he said.
The defense ministry said the planes would fly from bases in Central Asia, north of Afghanistan. The precise location of the bases "is still in discussion with different countries," said ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau.
U.S. defense officials said this week that they planned to base U.S. aircraft in Tajikistan, and the U.S. military already is using one airfield in Uzbekistan, which is allowing American troops to carry out search-and-rescue and humanitarian missions from its territory.
On Friday, France sent 58 troops who are to arrive in Afghanistan Monday to help the humanitarian aid effort near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, which was taken by the northern alliance last week. Anti-Taliban forces have now also taken Kabul, the capital and other cities.
A total of about 300 French soldiers will be deployed once the first group has assessed conditions on the ground, military officials said.
France already has intelligence officers in Afghanistan, part of a group of some 2,000 French military personnel involved in the military campaign.