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France: No quick decision on Afghanistan

  |   Jan. 26, 2012 at 6:35 AM
PARIS, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- France won't rush a decision on whether to withdraw its armed forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says.

Juppe, speaking to Parliament Tuesday, said President Nicolas Sarkozy will wait until a Friday meeting in Paris with Afghan President Hamid Karzai before making a decision on the timetable of force withdrawals.

"We will not give in to panic," he said, asserting there is a clear distinction between "an organized withdrawal and a rushed withdrawal."

The French foreign minister spoke to Parliament five days after four unarmed French soldiers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them during a training exercise in Kapisa province.

The shooting wasn't the first in recent months in which French troops have been targeted by suspected Taliban infiltrators from within the Afghan security forces.

Late last month, a man dressed in an Afghan army uniform killed two French soldiers, also in Kapisa province.

The two members of the French Foreign Legion were in the Tagab valley in Kapisa, where the French military was deployed as part of the NATO coalition forces.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said at the time the shooting was an isolated incident and didn't "pose a challenge to the transition process that has been initiated to pass responsibility for security to the Afghan National Army."

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, as they did for last week's slayings. Until the most recent killings, 78 French troops had died in Afghanistan since the 2001 toppling of the Taliban.

France isn't scheduled to leave the country until 2014 -- part of an orderly withdrawal process.

But the Jan. 20 shootings prompted an angry response from Sarkozy, who threatened to pull all French troops from Afghanistan within the year and suspended all training and combat support operations until a review of security conditions in Afghanistan can be completed, The Wall Street Journal said.

Longuet was dispatched to Kabul over the weekend, where he told reporters it was his understanding the shooter was a Taliban infiltrator within the ranks of the Afghan army.

But a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said Tuesday there is no evidence of widespread infiltration of Afghan security forces by insurgents, the U.S. newspaper Stars and Stripes reported.

"We know that the perpetrator was a member of the Afghan National Army, and he is in the custody of the Afghan National Army," German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobsen said, adding it was too soon to determine the motives behind the shooting.

"It is an unfortunate truth that we have seen cases of green-on-blue over the years," he said. "But there are no indicators of systemic infiltration into Afghan national security forces."

Jacobsen said ISAF assess the threat from infiltration every day, adding, "As we've seen with incidents of this kind in the past, the reasons are always different and there is a multitude of reasons when the investigations are completed."

Karzai will meet Sarkozy Friday as part of a five-day trip to Turkmenistan and Europe. The Afghan president said he is set to sign a strategic partnership treaty with Sarkozy as part of the summit.

The results of Longuet's security assessment would also be discussed, French Prime Minister Fran├žois Fillon told Parliament Tuesday.

Sarkozy, he said, "will announce the conclusions of this evaluation, after having shared them with President Karzai, who will be in France on Friday," The Wall Street Journal reported.

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