France takes first step in Afghan withdrawal
PARIS - Agence France-PresseFrance is suspending its training operations in Afghanistan as the first step toward a possible early pullout from the country after an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French soldiers and wounded several others Jan. 20. The shooting came a day after a NATO helicopter crashed, killing six members of the international military force.
“From now on, all the operations of training and combat help by the French Army are suspended,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris. “The French Army is in Afghanistan at the service of the Afghans against terrorism and against the Taliban. The French Army is not in Afghanistan so that Afghan soldiers can shoot at them.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe described the attack as an “assassination” and said it happened during an exercise at a base jointly operated by French and Afghan forces.
It marked the second time in a month that French soldiers were killed by Afghan soldiers.
Jan. 20 was among the deadliest days for French forces in the 10 years they have been serving in the international force in Afghanistan.Sarkozy confirmed the deaths, which brings to 82 the number of French soldiers killed in the Afghan campaign. A big part of the French role has recently been the training of Afghan troops ahead of the expected 2014 pullout of the 4,000 French troops currently operating. “If the conditions of security are not clearly restored, then the question of an early withdrawal of the French Army will arise,” Sarkozy said.
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet and Chief of Staff of the French Army Elrick Irastorza are heading to Kabul on Jan. 21. Once they have reported back, the French government will decide how to proceed, said Sarkozy. He also said he would discuss France’s role in Afghanistan with Afghan President Hamid Karzai when he visits Paris next week.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said this was “a very sad day for our troops in Afghanistan and for the French people,” but insisted that such incidents were “isolated.”
Turkey, which has the second largest standing army in the alliance, currently has 1,800 soldiers serving in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Unlike other European members of ISAF, Turkey’s mission is limited to patrols and its troops do not take part in combat operations. Turkey has agreed to extend by one year – until Nov. 1, 2012 – its command of NATO peacekeepers in the Afghan capital of Kabul, the Foreign Ministry said July 8.
Six killed in helicopter crash
Meanwhile, the cause of the NATO helicopter crash is still being investigated, but a coalition statement said there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of the accident. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef claimed insurgents shot down the Chinook helicopter in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province, killing all on board. The coalition did not disclose the nationalities of those killed and would not release details of the crash until the families of the dead were notified.