France's early exit to hurt Afghan ops?
KABUL -- France's call for a speedier NATO exit from Afghanistan reflects the depth of war fatigue in the West and raises fears that other countries in the U.S.-led coalition will succumb to rising political pressure and pull their troops home early.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy's decision -- days after an Afghan soldier gunned down four French troops -- is the latest crack in a coalition already strained by economic troubles in Europe and the United States, the Afghan government's sluggish battle against corruption, on-again, off-again cooperation from Pakistan and a dogged Taliban that is bloodied but not beaten.
The international coalition is already rushing against the clock to meet president Hamid Karzai's goal of having the Afghan police and army in charge of the nation's security by the end of 2014.
Resetting the date to end the coalition's combat mission could strengthen arguments for President Barack Obama to accelerate U.S. troop withdrawals beyond the 33,000 he's sending home by the end of this year. It also could reopen a debate over whether setting a withdrawal deadline allows the Taliban to seize more territory once foreign forces are gone.
It's unclear if Sarkozy's call for all foreign forces to hand security over to the Afghan forces in 2013 will have any traction when it is presented this week at a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels.
Sarkozy said France will speed up its withdrawal and pull 1,000 -- up from 600 -- out this year and bring all combat forces home at the end of 2013. Sarkozy also said France would hand over authority in the province of Kapisa, where the French troops were killed this month, by the end of March.
France, which now has about 3,600 soldiers in the coalition force, joins the U.S., Britain, Germany and Italy in the top five largest troop-contributing nations.