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French Planes Due to Target Al Qaeda

November 18, 2001|From Associated Press

PARIS — French warplanes will attack suspected Afghan strongholds of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network in missions beginning within two weeks, France's Defense Ministry said Saturday.

Up to 10 Mirage 2000 fighter planes will use bases in Central Asia, north of Afghanistan, to launch strikes on Al Qaeda hide-outs, ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau said.

France is still discussing with different countries the exact locations of the bases, he said.

Defense Minister Alain Richard said the mission would be aimed at "attacking the infrastructure and remaining refuges of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan." He told reporters in Paris that the decision came after "consultations with the United States."

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.

U.S. defense officials have said that they planned to base American aircraft in Tajikistan, and the U.S. military already is using one airfield in Uzbekistan, which enables American troops to carry out search-and-rescue and humanitarian missions from there.

The French commitment of combat planes was first mentioned Friday evening in a televised speech by President Jacques Chirac. "This action will continue until the heart of the terrorist network, and notably Bin Laden, are neutralized," he said.

He spoke hours after France sent its first ground troops to the region: 58 soldiers due to arrive in Afghanistan on Monday.

They will help the humanitarian aid effort near the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

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