Monday, January 23, 2012

Less Than 100 Days from France's Presidential Election, Sarkozy Is Tempted by a Speedy Retreat from Afghanistan

There must be no debate on Afghanistan

That is the message to army commanders from l'Élysée during France's presidential election.

The war in Afghanistan is entering France's presidential election, writes Nathalie Guibert in Le Monde, as Nicolas Sarkozy — who is torn between domestic politics and the demands of France's allies, the countries of the coalition, writes Natalie Nougayrède — suspends all military operations and ponders whether to leave the country.

In the wake of a man wearing the uniform of Afghanistan's national army machine gunning two dozen unarmed soldiers on a French base, four of whom have died, the French government, which has been pressuring army commanders to avoid losses for some time, sent the defense minister (Gérard Longuet) and the head of the armed forces (Admiral Edouard Guillaud) to Kabul.

Meanwhile, the socialist candidate, François Hollande, reacted by saying that "we must have the intelligence to recognize that this mission is over."

" Toutes les opérations de formation, d'aide au combat, de l'armée française sont suspendues ", a annoncé le président Nicolas Sarkozy. Si " les conditions de sécurité ne sont pas clairement rétablies, alors se posera la question d'un retour anticipé ", a-t-il ajouté. Le ministre de la défense et le chef d'état-major des armées ont été dépêchés à Kaboul.

… Sur le terrain, les chefs passent le message : il faut " un niveau de pertes compatible " avec l'état de l'opinion. Les soldats comprennent qu'on les prive de la possibilité de " finir le travail " qui a coûté la vie à 82 d'entre eux depuis 2001. Un haut responsable militaire explique au Monde : " Il ne doit pas y avoir de débat sur l'Afghanistan. "