Possible French Withdrawal from Afghanistan Threatens Obama's Strategy

Sarkozy's threat could hurt Obama's Afghan strategy.

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French President Nicholas Sarkozy's suspension of French military operations in Afghanistan Friday and threat to withdraw his nation's 4,000 troops could undermine President Barack Obama's war strategy.

Sarkozy halted all training activities after four French soldiers were shot and killed Friday by an Afghan soldier in northwest Afghanistan. It marked the second time this month that French soldiers have been attacked by an Afghan soldier.French troops will no longer conduct joint patrols with indigenous forces or conduct training, Sarkozy said. He lobbed a political grenade directly at the White House, threatening to remove the 4,000 French troops in Afghanistan unless certain conditions are met.

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France is not the lone key U.S. ally mulling its future participation in Afghanistan. In coming weeks, the German parliament will debate whether to keep its troops there much longer. With the prospect of a Franco-German withdrawal looming, the Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy is under pressure of collapsing, said on former senior Pentagon official.

"The problem is the president, since he has come into office, has given every signal he wants to terminate our involvement in Afghanistan as soon as possible," Eric Edleman, undersecretary of defense for policy under George W. Bush, said Friday . "So every ally is going to start making their own calculation about their involvement."

Obama's so-called "surge" in 2009 of 30,000 additional U.S. forces in Afghanistan was designed to assume that key U.S. allies like France also would send more troops and keep them there through 2014. That is when Obama plans to remnove all U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

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"The entire strategy, including our allies' contributions, is predicated on U.S. staying power," Edleman said. "From the Europeans' point-of-view, everything is driven in the U.S. by political calculations. So the Europeans will make their calculations on whether to stay with that in mind."

Some may view Sarkozy's announcement as an overreaction. But Edleman noted that because the European nation has a much smaller military contingent in Afghanistan than the U.S. does, there is "a greater sensitivity even when only a few of their troops are killed."

For that reason, he said, "it's hard to say whether Sarkozy is overreacting or not."

There has been an uptick in attacks on NATO troops by Afghan soldiers. Those attacks appear to be intended to drain the political will of NATO nations as the Obama administration's 2014 withdrawal date grows nearer.