A French newspaper has published what appears to be a diplomatic cable saying Britain's ambassador to Kabul thinks the West is losing the battle for Afghanistan.

The coded cable reproduced Wednesday in Le Canard Enchaîné seems to be from France's deputy ambassador to Afghanistan, François Fitou, describing a conversation he had with the British ambassador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles.

It says Cowper-Coles believes the West's war against Taliban forces in Afghanistan is being lost and the coalition that includes Canada's Armed Forces should leave an "acceptable dictator" in charge of the country within five to 10 years.

"We have no alternative to supporting the United States in Afghanistan, but we should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one," the cable paraphrases the ambassador as saying. 

A spokesman at the British Foreign Office quickly replied to the publication of the cable, saying: "The views quoted are not an accurate representation of our views."

Fitou sent the message to brief French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the newspaper said.

The French newspaper, a satirical and investigative weekly, has a history of printing material from leaks that prove embarrassing for the subjects.

The cable, written in French, paraphrases the 53-year-old British ambassador as saying:

  • The security situation is bad and getting worse.
  • The Afghan people have lost all trust in their current government, partly because of corruption.
  • The presence of foreign troops in the country is part of the problem, propping up the current regime and thus slowing progress toward Afghans putting a more effective government in place.
  • Sending more military reinforcements to Afghanistan would have a "perverse effect" on the country's stability and future, sending the message that an occupying force is in control of the country and widening the number of targets for insurgents to attack.

France has about 3,000 troops in Afghanistan, while Britain has about 8,400 troops in the country.

Canada's military mission includes about 2,500 personnel, most of them located in the volatile Kandahar region.

With files from David Common in Paris