WIMEREUX, France, Sept 13 (Reuters) - The police unit had staked out a stretch of coast in northern France before dawn only to see a group of migrants hundreds of metres away then emerge from behind the towering sand dunes, carrying an inflatable dinghy down to the sea's edge.
By the time the officers had reached their launching zone, delayed somewhat by a barrage of projectiles, the migrants had scrambled aboard the dinghy and set course for England.
"It was a little bit like a commando operation," one officer at the scene told Reuters. "Some of the migrants carried the dinghy and its outboard engine, while the others pelted us with pebbles to keep us at a distance."
For the police trying to halt the flow of migrants making the perilous crossing from France to Britain, the episode encapsulated the challenge they face securing the French maritime border: the shore is too long, the migrants too numerous, and the smugglers too good at evading security.
The numbers landing on the southern English coast near Dover - estimated at around 13,000 so far in 2021 - has infuriated British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government, which accuses Paris of inaction - a suggestion denied by the officers on the beach on Monday.
"They (the migrants) have come thousands of kilometres and are determined to risk their lives to reach England. They keep adapting to our tactics, determined to make the crossing whatever the cost," the officer said.
Even so, French police have prevented more crossings and confiscated more dinghies than in previous years. Nearby, a deflated dinghy, slashed by the police, lay on the beach along with a foot pump, buoyancy aid and items of clothing.
Later in the morning, another group of migrants loitered in the village of Wissant, backpacks and life-jackets in hand as they waited for a bus back to Calais after the police thwarted their launch.
One migrant of Middle Eastern descent said it had been his seventh attempt to reach Britain.
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