France Threatens To Remove Troops In Afghanistan

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France is suspending training operations in Afghanistan and threatening to withdraw its entire force from the country early after an Afghan soldier killed four French troops Friday. The French foreign minister described the attack as an "assassination."

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. France is temporarily suspending training and combat activities in Afghanistan. The move comes after four French soldiers were killed today by an Afghan soldier. President Nicolas Sarkozy says he may even bring French troops home earlier than the 2014 pull-out date.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has our story.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Word of the attack, which also injured at least 15 soldiers, eight gravely, came this morning. It brings the total number of French deaths in Afghanistan to 82, but this time, the soldiers weren't killed by the Taliban, but by a supposed Afghan ally.

A grave looking Sarkozy said France had chosen to send soldiers to Afghanistan to help the Afghan people fight terrorism and barbary.

PRESIDENT NICOLAS SARKOZY: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: But the French Army is not in Afghanistan so that Afghan soldiers can fire on them, said Sarkozy.

SARKOZY: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: The president said he was dispatching his defense minister and the head of the army to Afghanistan to assess the situation and, if basic security conditions could not be met, then France would consider withdrawing its forces early.

France has about 4,000 soldiers fighting in the NATO-led force against the Taliban. Afghan authorities confirmed that the shooting occurred while French and Afghan soldiers were on a joint operation. It is not known whether the shooter was an Afghan soldier or a militant dressed as one. The Taliban commended his actions.

There is increasing talk of a crisis of trust and compatibility between the Afghan and allied soldiers. Edward Burke with the London-based Center for European Reform says Sarkozy's unilateral action is unfortunate for NATO, but understandable.

EDWARD BURKE: The French decision today reflects a deep frustration amongst many coalition partners that they don't feel that they're making the progress that perhaps has been widely reported in Brussels by NATO and in Washington, D.C.

BEARDSLEY: Journalist Jean-Marc Illouz says Sarkozy had no choice but to suspend military operations.

JEAN-MARC ILLOUZ: President Sarkozy wants to be re-elected for a new term in May and he's obviously under pressure from his main rivals, both on the left and the extreme right, to bring home troops this very year.

BEARDSLEY: After 9/11, Illouz says the French largely supported the war in Afghanistan, but have turned against it as casualties mount. Parisians headed home from work Friday evening. Businessman Dominique Aldwain(ph) says he draws parallels between Afghanistan and the failed French war in Algeria in the 1960s.

DOMINIQUE ALDWAIN: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: If we pull out of Afghanistan, we may leave it in chaos, but do we really have the right to stay in a country and impose our will? It's a tough call, he says.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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