France to stay in Afghanistan until stable

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French Prime Minister Francois Fillon says Paris will send 80 new military trainers to Afghanistan and keep soldiers there as long as it takes to bring stability.

Kabul – Visiting French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday that Paris would keep soldiers in the war-torn country as long as it took to bring stability.

Fillon, on a previously unannounced visit, met Karzai at the heavily guarded presidential palace as thousands of Afghan, US and NATO troops were massing in preparation for a major assault on a Taliban bastion.

"France will stay for as long as it takes to bring stability to Afghanistan," he told a joint news conference with Karzai.

"We have committed the necessary means to accomplish the mission that has been entrusted to us," he added, when asked about a French pledge to send 80 new military trainers to Afghanistan, far fewer than US expectations.

France is the fourth biggest contributor of Western troops helping the Afghan government fight against the Taliban-led insurgency, behind the United States, Britain and Germany.

It has 3,750 soldiers assigned to the NATO operation, 3,500 of them on Afghan soil, out of the estimated 113,000 NATO and US forces in Afghanistan.

France announced Friday it would send around 80 military trainers to Afghanistan to help build up the national security forces, whose strengthening is at the heart of a US-led strategy to bring a swift end to the war.

But unlike NATO and EU allies, France said it would not send extra combat troops to Afghanistan after US President Barack Obama announced a surge of 30,000 American forces in a bid to defeat Al-Qaeda and beat back the Taliban.

Washington has been pushing Paris to boost its troop numbers in Afghanistan, where the eight-year Taliban insurgency is now at its deadliest.

The United States has urged NATO partners to find about 4,000 extra trainers to help build up the Afghan army and police force.

Fillon is visiting Afghanistan accompanied by French army chief of staff Jean-Louis Georgelin and is scheduled to meet General Stanley McChrystal, the overall military commander on the ground in Afghanistan.

The prime minister is expected to visit several sites where French soldiers are operating, with a particular regard to reconstruction efforts for Afghans, but officials did not reveal precise details for security reasons.

France has lost 40 soldiers in action since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime.

One of Fillon's first duties on the visit was to attend a repatriation ceremony on the tarmac at Kabul airport for a 20-year-old French soldier killed in combat this week, his aides said.

AFP / Expatica

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