January 27, 2012 / 9:07 AM / 8 years ago

Karzai meets Sarkozy as French threaten early pullout

PARIS (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets French President Nicolas Sarkozy later Friday hoping to convince Paris not to accelerate its troop withdrawal and clinch a partnership agreement for post-2014.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy waits for a guest at the Elysee Palace in Paris January 26, 2012. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Sarkozy last week suspended all French training and support operations on the ground and sent his defense minister and armed forces chief to Kabul after four French soldiers were killed by a rogue Afghan soldier.

Paris has 3,600 troops in Afghanistan as part of the 130,000-strong NATO-led force there. French troops mainly patrol Kapisa, a mountainous province near Kabul. One thousand French troops are due to leave by end-2012 and the rest by 2014.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Tuesday a decision would be made after Karzai’s visit on whether to speed up the withdrawal, a move that could prove a boost to Sarkozy ahead of presidential elections.

Socialist rival Francois Hollande, who is comfortably ahead in the polls, has pledged to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of this year if he wins the election held in two rounds in April and May.

In a CSA survey published Thursday, 84 percent of people said they were in favor of troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of 2012.

Juppe ruled out a “hasty” retreat and most analysts believe technically it would be difficult for Paris to drop out of the NATO-led coalition so quickly, although bringing a departure date forward would prove popular.

France spends about 500 million euros ($668 million) a year on its Afghan operations at a time when Paris is trying to balance its finances.

The killings in the Taghab valley of Afghanistan’s eastern Kapisa province were the latest in a series of incidents in which Afghan troops have turned on Western allies.

NATO has been rapidly expanding the Afghan security forces so that they will be able to take over all responsibility for security when Western combat forces leave in 2014.

Defense Minister Gerard Longuet submitted a report to Sarkozy earlier in the week outlining what Karzai is planning to do to improve security guarantees for its troops and clarify how Kabul was recruiting its new soldiers.

Among the requests Paris has made is to have French-trained Afghan officers made available to them to shadow local troops.

More than 2,500 foreign troops have died in Afghanistan since 2001. The latest killings take the French toll to 82.

Karzai meets Sarkozy at 5 p.m. (11 a.m. ET).

Reporting By John Irish

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