Fabled Foreign Legion Fading With Time





The Foreign Legion isn't what it used to be. Murderers on the run are no longer welcome, and unhappy recruits have a year to back out without being branded deserters.

These days a bigger issue faces the 175-year-old force that made its name fighting France's overseas battles in jungle and desert. Its key role -- to be a crack professional force available for rapid, no-questions-asked deployment in far-flung conflicts -- has all but evaporated.

In campaigns from Algeria to Vietnam, Madagascar to Mexico, Legionnaires made up the bulk of the combat forces and suffered most of the casualties. Even in Bosnia a decade ago, serving as U.N. peacekeepers for the first time, they made up a significant portion of the French troops there.

But this summer, when Paris contributed a 2,000-strong contingent to the U.N. force in Lebanon, it included only 200 Legion engineers.


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