France calls on Germans to boost Afghan role

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The French government urged Germany on Wednesday to bear more of the military burden in Afghanistan, saying it was essential if Europe wanted to unite behind a common strategy for the war-torn country.

Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister, said France, Germany and the UK needed to forge a “European strategy within Nato” to have more influence over US policy but this was not possible because “their [German] soldiers are not there [in Afghanistan] to fight”.

Mr Kouchner’s criticism reflects long-standing concern among Germany’s allies about restrictions in the rules of engagement for the 4,400 German troops who are deployed mostly in the north of Afghanistan, despite recent changes to its so-called “caveats”.

It may also reflect more recent disappointment that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, did not offer a more robust perspective on Afghanistan in a speech to the US Congress this week.

Mr Kouchner said Germany should adopt the same rules of engagement as France and the UK.

“We have to equalise engagement policies,” he said. “That is the starting point for a European position.”

Mr Kouchner said that defining a common political strategy for Afghanistan should be a priority for the European Union’s incoming high representative for foreign policy and external action service, created under the Lisbon treaty. “Even as Europeans, we are not talking to each other,” he said. “This is ridiculous. This is shameful because our soldiers are dying.”

It was important for the Europeans to adopt clear aims and objectives on Afghanistan if the EU was to have influence over US strategy, he added.

Mr Kouchner said it was “impossible” to occupy the whole of Afghanistan. He personally favoured redeploying troops away from the north of the country to Pashtun areas, the dominant tribal group. “This is a Pashtun war, not an Afghan war. Not all Pashtuns are Taliban, but the Taliban are all Pashtuns.”

He also said the international military effort should be concentrated in the valleys and urban areas where it would be easier to show the local population improvements in security and living standards.

“Having a victory against the Taliban in the mountains is absolutely impossible. In the towns, you can show your determination, willingness and efficiency.”

France has 3,100 troops deployed in Afghanistan, mainly in two valleys to the east of Kabul.

Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, has ruled out sending reinforcements.

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