Central & South Asia
France 'committed to Afghan stability'
French defence minister in Kabul to probe "murder" of four soldiers plays down Sarkozy's warning of early withdrawal.
Last Modified: 21 Jan 2012 15:10

Gerard Longuet, the French defence minister who is in Kabul for talks after an Afghan soldier shot dead four French troops, has toned down his president's warning of an early withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Longuet, who referred to Friday's incident in the eastern province of Kapisa as "murder", ordered an investigation into the attack, that occurred during a sports-training session.

Fifteen French soldiers were also wounded in the attack, eight seriously.

The findings of Longuet's report will determine whether France's training mission for Afghan troops, which was suspended on Friday, will continue through to 2014 or will be halted two years early in response

"The entire point of this visit is to assess the position that we have to take," he said, appearing to lessen the prospect of an early withdrawal that Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president, had warned.

"The mission remains exactly the same, to bring about a stable force" and "to handover" to the Afghans.

"We must reflect in order to support a mission that is a success," he said.

'In close contact'

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, after expressing her sympathy over the deaths to Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said an immediate French pullout from Afghanistan seemed unlikely.

"We are in close contact with our French colleagues and we have no reason to believe that France will do anything other than continue to be part of the very carefully considered transition process as we look at our exit as previously agreed upon in Lisbon," she said in Washington.

 There have been a number of incidents of Afghan soldiers turning their weapons on NATO forces [EPA]

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think-tank, the Centre for American Progress, said Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, must now offer assurances to the international community about his troops.

Leaders will want to get more assurances from the Afghan government that "the wrong kind of people" are not being let into the national security forces, Korb said.

The attack, less than 100 days before France's presidential elections, increases pressure on Sarokzy, with the French role in the NATO-led mission already deeply unpopular at home.

Francois Hollande, Sarkozy's Socialist presidential opponent, who according to opinion polls is the most likely victor in the vote, said that if elected he would order the 3,600 troop contingent home by the end of the year.

France was already concentrating on training Afghan forces, and accompanying them in combat rather than leading its own offensives against Taliban fighters, so Friday's suspension of operations effectively halted its core role.

The latest deaths brought to 82 the number of French soldiers killed in Afghanistan since French forces deployed there at the end of 2001. Last year was the deadliest so far, with 26 killed.

An independent report shows three dozen attacks against coalition forces by Afghan soldiers since 2007.

Taliban negotiations

Speaking to parliament on Saturday, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said his government had held talks with Hizb-e-Islami, an armed opposition group that has been fighting the international coalition and the Afghan government alongside the Taliban.

Led by the fugitive Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a commander from the anti-Soviet jihad, the Hizb-e-Islami was involved in the Afghan factional war of the 1990s.

It later fought against the Taliban government, only to subsequently join the movement in fighting foreign forces since 2001.

"I hope our brothers engaged in the war against their country renounce violence and lay down the foreign weapons and stop the war on their country and embrace our peace efforts,” Karzai said

Karzai's statement, seen as an attempt to reassert himself in the peace talks that he feels are being hijacked by the US, comes as Marc Grossman, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, arrived in Kabul on Saturday.

Grossman is expected to address the Afghan president's grievences about the negotiations with the Taliban. 

"After our meeting with President Karzai, we will decide what to do next because we take his guidance and advice in an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process,'' Grossman said on Friday during a stop in India.

Karzai has been lukewarm in his response to the latest developments in the negotiation process, particularly the annoucement of a future office for the Taliban in Qatar.

The president said it was the Afghan nation "that owned the peace process and talks," once again stressing the need for the process to be led by his government.

Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, said Grossman will be "at pains to reassure Karzai and the Afghan government" that they will be part of any negotiations between the US and the Taliban.

She said Karzai and his advisers feel that they have "been left out of the process".

Al Jazeera and agencies
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