French defence minister spends NY in Afghanistan
French defence minister Gerard Longuet spent New Year's eve with troops in Afghanistan at the end of a year in which his nation's forces suffered their heaviest death toll.
Longuet saw in the new year with military personnel based in Surobi, a district of Kabul province to the east of the capital.
After touching down in Kabul, the minister took part in a ceremony for two French Legion soldiers who were shot dead Thursday by an Afghan army soldier who they were training in the eastern province of Kapisa.
US General John Allen, the commander of ISAF forces in Afghanistan, also attended the ceremony before the bodies were put on a plane to be repatriated to France.
Suicide attacks, roadside bombs and insurgent attacks have had a heavy toll on French troops in 2011. A total of 26 were killed, the most in a single year during the 10-year war.
In the morning Longuet met to discuss the security situation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Afghan counterpart General Abdul Rahim Wardak.
"We shouldn't downplay the incident. We have to find a way through this," said Colonel Philippe Robin, senior commander at the Nirjab base.
He said French and Afghan forces have a "common cause" and would continue in their operations.
Addressing the soldiers at Nirjab, Longuet praised the sacrifices made and the "efforts which allow the hope that in 2012 the Afghan National Army will be able to take responsibility for security" in Kapisa.
"France's aim is not to be in foreign theatres indefinitely," he said, referring to commitments in Libya and the Ivory Coast.
Thursday's incident took the death toll among French troops since the start of the war in 2001 to 78.
After the withdrawal of 400 troops this year, France now has 3,600 soldiers serving in Afghanistan with another 200 due to leave in March.
There are about 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan fighting alongside Afghan government forces against a Taliban-led insurgency.
NATO is handing security over to Afghan forces ahead of the withdrawal of all its combat troops by the end of 2014 and the French have been involved in training the Afghan army.
© 2011 AFP