France to continue training mission in Afghanistan
France will again take up its mission in Afghanistan to train Afghan soldiers, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday after talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Paris, DPA reported.
The training, to be recommenced as early as Saturday, was called off by France a week ago when four French soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan soldier during a joint training exercise.
The killings caused dismay in France and prompted a threat from Sarkozy to accelerate the withdrawal of the remaining 3,600 French troops, before a 2014 deadline for the departure of all foreign troops.
Sarkozy on Friday announced a step-by-step transfer of responsibility for the security of Kapisa province over to the Afghan army starting in 2012.
"The gradual transfer will allow the withdrawal of French troops at the end of 2013," Sarkozy said. According to the previous plan, French troops were to withdraw at the start of 2014, and all NATO units by the end of 2014.
Sarkozy plans to bring back about 1,000 troops home in 2012, 400 more than originally planned.
In the past few days, the French government rowed back from the threat of an early withdrawal, with Defence Minister Gerard Longuet reaffirming earlier Friday the timetable agreed by the NATO-led coalition at a summit in Lisbon in 2010.
"We have two years in front of us to organize the whole transition," said Longuet, who travelled to Afghanistan following the killing of the soldiers.
France would bring up the challenges raised by the withdrawal at a NATO meeting in Brussels next month, he said.
"We have announced our departure, we have to adapt our plan to that departure," he told BFM TV and RMC radio in a joint interview.
There have been a number of attacks in the past few months by Afghan security forces against coalition forces, cementing suspicions that the Taliban have infiltrated the police and army.
"We have to take this new (Taliban) methods into account," Longuet said.
The opposition Socialist Party has called for all the troops to be brought home by the end of 2012. Some 400 troops already returned in 2011.
Sarkozy told a memorial service for the four dead soldiers Wednesday that France would not be "intimidated" by "barbarism."
France has also pledged to continue support for Afghanistan beyond 2014.