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French ponder Afghan mission

By Laurent Pirot
Associated Press / August 23, 2008
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PARIS - France's prime minister wants parliament to vote on whether to keep French forces in Afghanistan, his office said yesterday, as a poll showed most citizens want the troops pulled out after 10 died this week in an ambush.

Parliament, which is dominated by President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party, is nearly certain to approve a continuation of the French presence in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon will propose that lawmakers vote on the continuation of the French military mission during an extraordinary parliamentary session that starts Sept. 22, his office said. No date for the proposed vote was given.

Sarkozy, in a conversation with President Bush yesterday, "underlined France's determination to pursue its fight against terrorism, in close liaison with its allies," Sarkozy's office said.

Sarkozy has shown little sign of interest in a pullout since Monday's attack outside Kabul, the deadliest for international forces there in years.

But the vote would be an important gesture toward those who questioned Sarkozy's decision in April to build up the French force by 700, to about 2,600 troops. Critics said he caved too easily to US pressure for NATO allies to bear more of the burden in increasingly violent Afghanistan.

The vote would be in line with a constitutional amendment passed last month requiring that any military mission longer than four months be submitted to parliamentary approval.

The ambush prompted French media and opposition Socialists to question France's mission in Afghanistan.

France's lower house of parliament said yesterday that the country's defense and foreign ministers would appear Tuesday before a panel to answer lawmakers' questions about the incident. In a statement, the National Assembly also said a delegation of lawmakers from across the political spectrum would go to Afghanistan soon as part of a parliamentary investigation into the attacks.

A survey in the daily Le Parisien yesterday showed 55 percent of respondents think France should leave the NATO mission fighting the Taliban, compared with 36 percent who say they should remain.

Sarkozy, though, has remained firm in his commitment. At a funeral ceremony Thursday for the 10 victims, the French leader said, "We don't have the right to lose there."

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