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France Rules Out Early Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has strongly denied speculations that France is planning to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan immediately in the wake of the killing of four French soldiers by one of their Afghan counterparts late last week.

"When I hear talk of an immediate withdrawal, such as at the end of 2012, I am not sure that this has been thought through and studied. We must not give in to panic, we must not confuse an orderly withdrawal with a rushed withdrawal," Juppe told the French Parliament on Tuesday.

Four French servicemen were killed and 16 of their colleagues injured last Friday, when an Afghan National Army soldier opened fire on them at a joint Afghan-coalition forces military base in north-eastern district of Kapisa province. France had temporarily suspended its operations in Afghanistan after the incident.

Immediately after the news about the attack emerged, President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "The French Army is alongside its allies but we cannot accept that a single one of our soldiers be wounded or killed by our allies, it's unacceptable."

Sarkozy also said he was considering withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan earlier than scheduled, and added that he had directed Defense Minister Gerard Longuet to visit the Asian nation to asses the situation there. Longuet is expected to submit his report this week.

With 3,935 troops stationed in Afghanistan, France is the fourth largest contributor to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployed in the country to fight Taliban insurgency. France so far lost 82 soldiers since joining the U.S.-led Afghan military operations that began nearly a decade ago. The French troops are mainly based in the Kapisa and Sorobi districts.

The developments came as France is in the process of gradually withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in accordance with NATO plans to end the ongoing military mission in the war-torn country by 2014.

During a surprise visit to a military base north of the Afghan capital Kabul in July, Sarkozy had announced that France would pull out a quarter of its contingent, about 1,000 soldiers, by the end of 2012. Since then, France has withdrawn a total of 400 of its troops, 200 in October and another 200 before Christmas.

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