France backs away from early Afghanistan withdrawal
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France appeared to back away from the prospect of an early withdrawal from the 10-year war in Afghanistan on Saturday, emphasising its commitment to the country after an Afghan soldier killed four of its troops.
France is one of the largest contributors to the 130,000-strong US-led Nato force fighting the Taliban and training Afghan soldiers to take responsibility for security by the end of 2014 when foreign troops are scheduled to withdraw.
Defence Minister Gerard Longuet and Chief of Defence staff Admiral Edouard Guillaud flew into Afghanistan for emergency talks a day after the president threatened to order a swift exit of its 3,600 troops on the ground.
Longuet appeared to distance himself slightly from the prospect of an immediate withdrawal, saying: "The mission remains exactly the same, to bring about a stable force" and "to handover" to the Afghans.
Paris reacted furiously after an Afghan soldier on Friday shot dead four unarmed soldiers and wounded 15 others as they completed a work-out on the training base they shared with Afghan troops.
Friday's attack was the second time in a month that French troops were shot dead by a man in Afghan army uniform, bringing the country's overall death toll to 82 since troops deployed in 2001.
Longuet held talks with General Jean-Pierre Palasset, the French commander on the ground at their main base in eastern Afghanistan, and was then due to meet General Nazar, commander of the 3rd Afghan army brigade.
On Sunday, the French minister will meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Afghan defence and interior ministers, US commander General John Allen and other senior commanders in the International Security Assistance Force.
The French force is to be reduced to 3,000 by late 2012, with 200 due to leave in March. All Nato combat troops are due to leave by the end of 2014.
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