Earlier this month, I wrote that Nicolas Sarkozy might consider showing some leadership in Europe by bolstering France’s combat participation in Afghanistan. Le Monde reported earlier today that Sarkozy has all but committed the troops to the front lines:
France may send hundreds of ground troops to east Afghanistan where NATO-led forces are fighting al Qaeda-backed insurgents, Le Monde newspaper reported on Tuesday.
It said the move would be part of a new Afghan policy being worked out by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his advisers.
France has about 1,900 soldiers under NATO’s Afghan command, most of them based in relatively calm Kabul, and Le Monde said the fresh troops would be deployed outside the capital.
“Their destination would be zones of potentially fierce fighting, preferably the eastern region of Afghanistan close to the tribal areas of Pakistan,” it said.
Early last year, France withdrew 200 special forces soldiers who had been operating under U.S. command in Afghanistan, but Le Monde said Paris was now expected to sanction the return of the special forces. About 50 remained to train Afghan commandos.
Washington will welcome this news. Previously, France had led the vacillation on Afghanistan, and the rest of Europe followed. Sarkozy has very publicly stated that NATO had to start fighting to win in Afghanistan, however, and seems ready to return France to the front lines in support of the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.
This could make other NATO members very uncomfortable, especially Germany. Angela Merkel has already rejected the idea of having German troops in heavy combat areas. The French move will put more strain on the relationship between the two countries, which were so sympatico under the previous leadership of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder that they occasionally represented each other at international meetings. Sarkozy has taken a much more pro-America stance, and Germany has grown more isolated.
Canada will now have some leeway to remain in position in Afghanistan. They had threatened to withdraw unless more European troops started participating in combat roles. France’s role to shore up the coalition could help the Stephen Harper government argue for remaining on the lines.