South Asia News
LEAD: Juppe rules out rushed withdrawal from Afghanistan
Jan 24, 2012, 15:49 GMT
Paris - French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Tuesday ruled out a hasty withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan, where four servicemen were shot dead last week by an Afghan soldier.
'We mustn't give into panic,' Juppe told the National Assembly.
President Nicolas Sarkozy reacted to last week's killings during a training exercise in Kapisa province by threatening to withdraw troops ahead of a 2014 deadline for the departure of coalition forces.
'The French army is not in Afghanistan to be shot at by Afghan soldiers,' Sarkozy, who is expected to seek re-election in April had said, announcing he would consider speeding up the troops' return if security conditions were not 'clearly established.'
Sarkozy and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will discuss the situation during a visit by the Afghan leader to Paris Friday.
Francois Hollande, the Socialist frontrunner in April's presidential vote, is calling for the troops to be brought home by the end of the year.
'When I hear people talking about an immediate withdrawal, by the end of 2012, I'm not sure it's been fully thought through,' Juppe said.
France already withdrew 400 troops from Afghanistan last year. A further 600 are set to return home this year.
Juppe warned a rushed withdrawal could endanger the safety of both French and other coalition forces.
France has 3,600 soldiers in Afghanistan - the fourth-largest contingent after the US, British and German contingents. The bulk of the force is based in north-eastern Kapisa province.
The French worry that the Taliban has infiltrated the Afghan army, threatening the lives of the coalition forces that are training Afghan soldiers to take over security by 2014.
In the past few months, Afghan security forces have carried out several attacks on foreign troops.
'We need strong assurances that everything will be done to ensure it doesn't happen again,' Juppe had told diplomatic reporters earlier.
That included 'credible guarantees' from Karzai about army recruitment procedures, he said.
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