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French history of fighting terror

Chirac, left, told Bush he had France's support in the battle against terrorism
Chirac, left, told Bush he had France's support in the battle against terrorism  

By CNN Paris Bureau Chief Peter Humi

PARIS, France (CNN) -- French President Jacques Chirac has been the first Western leader to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush following the terror attacks.

During his trip to the United States, Chirac visited the remains of the World Trade Center and travelled to Washington where he met Bush.

Chirac, who along with other French leaders has expressed solidarity with the U.S. in its declared war against terrorism, repeated his country's support for Washington.

"I want to tell President Bush, who is my friend, that we bring you the total solidarity of France and the French people, it is a solidarity of the heart," Chirac said.

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"We are completely determined to fight by your side this new type of evil, of absolute evil, which is terrorism, and France is prepared and available to discuss all means to fight and eradicate this evil."

The French are familiar with acts of terror and with seeing their military on duty abroad.

In 1995, 13 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in a series of terrorist attacks in Paris. Since the end of the Cold War, France has been involved in 60 international military operations.

"Our country has always been determined to use weapons, to use military force when the political target, the political objective was clear and legitimate," said Alain Richard, the French defence minister. "So there's no objection from our side to the range of means that could be useful."

French troops have served overseas, most notably in the former colonies in Africa. The French Foreign Legion still has bases across the continent, including in Djibouti, in east Africa.

"We have in the French system pretty good special forces, some of them with strong eexperiencein the Middle East, you know, fluent in Arabic, and so we have a pretty good network of people experienced in that region of the world," said Pierre Lellouche, secretary of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence.

Francois Heisbourg, a military analyst, said: "If you are talking about an intervention by air and ground in Afghanistan, the French do possess special forces, airborne troops and airmobile troops which are quite good."

In 1996, members of the so-called COS -- or Special Operations Command -- were sent to the Central African Republic to help suppress an attempted coup.

Pilot recovery crews also went into action during NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia.

And COS units were discreetly deployed as part of a rapid reaction force in Kosovo.

Formed after the 1991 Gulf War, COS is likely to be called on if France approves involvement in covert operations.

Heisbourg said: "We don't know of course what the Americans will want from the allies, whether they will see (us) as desirable participants or whether we'll be seen as people who are best put in the back row."

French participation might come in a different operational theatre than Central Asia. For now, though, the only French troops in evidence following last week's attacks have been those on duty on the streets of Paris as part of increased security measures at home.

• Chirac pledges support for U.S.
September 19, 2001
• Emergency summit for EU leaders
September 18, 2001

• French Government
• The French Foreign Legion
• French Special Forces

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