Chirac says French troops will participate in offensive

PARIS (AP) _ President Jacques Chirac pledged Sunday that French troops will participate in the U.S. led military offensive against Afghanistan, the first time the French leader has made an offer of such direct support.

“Our forces will participate,” Chirac told the nation in a televised address. He said that the United States had made new requests for French military participation in recent days.

“The fight against terrorism is complex and without mercy,” Chirac said, adding that “the military operations will take place over a long period.”

President Bush informed Chirac by telephone an hour ahead of the strikes that a U.S. offensive on Afghanistan was “imminent,” French presidential spokeswoman Catherine Colonna said.

Chirac said that “at this stage,” French vessels are associated with the operation, but he did not give details. France had earlier said it would open its airspace to U.S. military aircraft and provide support at sea.

“We will assume our role in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility,” Chirac said.

Defense Minister Alain Richard said earlier that France “can enter into action in a few days.” He added that, “our level of capacity for intervention is strictly comparable to that of Britain.”

Beyond military action, Chirac said, “we must attack the networks by strengthened international cooperation in the fields of intelligence, police, justice, finances. The fight is underway.”

welcomes comments at