What do possible peace talks between the US and the Taliban mean for Afghanistan’s future?
The French defence minister, Gerard Longuet, has arrived in Kabul for high-level talks amid a warning by France that it may accelerate its withdrawal from the country after an Afghan soldier shot dead four French troops.
His arrival on Saturday came as Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, addressed parliament for the first time after the deadly shooting.
Longuet, who referred to Friday’s incident in the eastern province of Kapisa as “murder”, will investigate the attack that occurred during a sports-training session that also left 15 French soldiers wounded, eight seriously.
“They were not armed. They were literally murdered by an Afghan soldier. We don’t yet know if it was a Taliban who infiltrated or if it was someone who decided to act for reasons as yet unknown,” Longuet said, referring to the incident when an Afghan soldier opened fire on the unarmed French training group.
According to the Reuters news agency, the Taliban claimed to have recruited the soldier responsible for the attack.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has recruited people in important positions. Some of them have already accomplished their missions,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said over telephone.
The findings of Longuet’s report will determine whether French operations in Afghanistan, which were suspended on Friday, will continue through to 2014 or will be halted two years early in response.
‘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 has 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 Center for American Progress, said Karzai 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 French role in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan was already deeply unpopular at home and – less than 100 days before presidential elections – Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, appears to be preparing the ground for a rapid withdrawal.
Sarkozy’s Socialist opponent, Francois Hollande, who according to opinion polls is the most likely victor in the poll, 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.
There has been a number of incidents of Afghan soldiers turning their weapons on members of the NATO-led foreign force fighting an uprising by the Taliban.
Deadliest so far
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.
Though NATO does not publicly release figures for international soldiers killed at the hands of the Afghan soldiers they train and fight alongside, a 2011 report – A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility – shows three dozen attacks against coalition forces by Afghan soldiers since 2007.
“US soldiers don’t listen, they are too arrogant,” said one of the Afghan soldiers surveyed, in the report.
Another said: “They get upset due to their casualties, so they take it out on civilians during their searches.”
An American soldier was quoted in the same report saying Afghan soldiers “are pretty much gutless in combat; we do most of the fighting”.
Discussing possible accelerated withdrawals for all foreign troops from Afghanistan, the Center for American Progress’s Korb said: “I don’t think we’ll see a big impact”.
“We’re already on our way out,” he said, referring to the 2014 international troop withdrawal deadline.
Discussing the proposed negotiations between the US and the Taliban in Qatar, Korb said US officials may be looking for “some sort of accomodations that will allow us to get out more quickly” … but much of the world “is already on its way out”.
Korb’s statements come as reports of new confidence among the Obama administration officials that talks with the Taliban next week offer the best chance yet to end the 10-year-old war in Afghanistan.
But the intelligence community warns that the Taliban is more interested in continuing fighting than making peace.
The US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, who also arrived in Kabul on Saturday, is set to speak to the Afghan president about the negotiations with the Taliban.
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”.