PARIS (AP) — President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday honored four French troops shot dead by an Afghan man, a killing that rattled France's commitment to a NATO-led war in Afghanistan unpopular among many French.
In a somber ceremony in the southeastern town of Varces, the French leader said the troops gunned down were victims of a Taliban rebel who had infiltrated a military base stationed jointly by French and Afghan forces.
"Four of our soldiers were shot in Afghanistan, victims of the most cowardly of crimes," he said in remarks aired on French TV. "While unarmed, they were slaughtered by a Taliban wearing the uniform of an ally's army."
He noted the French troops were there to train Afghan soldiers.
"We will not allow ourselves to be impressed by this barbarity ... that must strengthen us even more in our determination to work for peace," he added.
After Friday's shootings, Sarkozy ordered a halt to French training programs for the Afghan military and threatened to withdraw French forces earlier than first planned.
But top French officials in recent days have sought to dispel concerns abroad about a possible crack in the NATO-led alliance in Afghanistan and a hasty exit by France.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon told parliament Tuesday that France is keeping to plans to withdraw 600 troops this year — in line with a previous schedule pegged in part to a gradual U.S.-led withdrawal by 2014.
France currently has about 3,600 troops in Afghanistan. France, the fourth-largest national contingent in the NATO-led force, has lost 92 troops since 2001. The total alliance death toll is nearly 2,560 — mostly Americans.
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet, who traveled to Afghanistan right after the killings, is preparing a report for Sarkozy on what happened before the French leader specifies any new plans for the drawdown.
Sarkozy, who is facing a possible re-election bid this spring, is expected to publicize his decision on Friday after hosting Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a long-scheduled meeting in Paris.