France and Afghanistan agree NATO should speed up by a year its timetable for handing all combat operations to Afghan forces in 2013, President Nicolas Sarkozy said today, raising new questions about the unity of the Western military alliance. Sarkozy also announced that all French combat troops will leave the country by the end of 2013, marking a distinct break from previous plans to adhere to the US goal of withdrawing combat forces by the end of 2014.
The proposal comes a week after four unarmed French troops were killed by an Afghan soldier described as a Taliban infiltrator. Sarkozy today said France will restart its training missions of Afghan troops Saturday. After the shootings Jan. 20, he immediately suspended the training and joint French military patrols with Afghan forces. A senior US defense official said that US forces are continuing to plan to transition to the Afghans at the end of 2014, and that nothing has changed. NATO reacted tersely to Sarkozy's statement, with a rep saying only, "We have taken note of the statement."