President Nicolas Sarkozy suspended French combat training operations in Afghanistan on Friday after four French soldiers were killed and more than a dozen wounded by a renegade Afghan soldier who opened fire on his unarmed trainers, The Washington Post reports.
Sarkozy did not specify how many French forces this would affect, or which programs he was referring to. The Afghan soldier has since been apprehended, according to the AP.
Sarkozy also said he had sent defence Minister Gerard Longuet to Afghanistan to demonstrate support for the 3,600 French soldiers there and assess its future role, raising the possibility that France would speed up the withdrawal of its troops fighting as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force if more secure conditions were not restored.
“The French army is not in Afghanistan to be shot at by Afghan soldiers,” Sarkozy said, according to CNN.
The shooting Friday marked the second time in less than a month that French soldiers have been killed by Afghans they have been training. Two French Foreign Legion troopers were shot and killed December 29 northeast of Kabul. That shooter was immediately shot and killed by other French soldiers.
Since France got involved in the war, 82 French soldiers have been killed, Voice of America reports.
The French role in Afghanistan has often been criticised in public debate, and the imminent French elections put Sarkozy’s swift reaction into context. His rival, Francois Hollande, has said he will withdraw French troops by the end of this year if elected, according to the AP.
Foreign forces are scheduled to pull out of the country entirely by the end of 2014.
While the French contingent is vastly outnumbered by its American counterpart, its withdrawal would be a psychological blow to the foreign coalition and its morale. Already, NATO is struggling to persuade major contributor nations not only to stick to their promise to remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, but also to commit to helping the country militarily after that, The New York Times reported.