PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy was on Friday considering accelerating the withdrawal of his country's troops from Afghanistan, following the killing of four French soldiers by an Afghan serviceman.
'If the security conditions are not clearly established, the question of an early return of the French army to France will arise,' Sarkozy said, after receiving news of the killings which took place at a military base in Kapisa province, north-east of Kabul.
'The French army is not in Afghanistan to be shot at by Afghan soldiers,' said an indignant Sarkozy, announcing he was suspending all training and support operations by the French army in Afghanistan.
He also immediately dispatched Defense Minister Gerard Longuet and the head of the armed forces to Kabul to investigate the incident and come up with recommendations.
Longuet said that the French troops were unarmed when they were attacked during training with Afghan troops at the base in Tagab district.
Afghan President Karzai in a statement sent his condolences to the families of the victims and the people of France.
'France has been generous to provide extensive assistance to Afghanistan over the past 10 years. Throughout history, the two countries have enjoyed a sincere relationship, which Afghan people would always cherish,' he said.
The attack is likely to add to fears that the Taliban has infiltrated the police and army, and put pressure on Sarkozy to bring home the troops as he prepares to announce a bid for re-election in three months.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid neither confirmed nor denied his movement's involvement in the attack.
'Right now I can say that (it was) an individual act performed by him due to his own belief,' he said.
The incident, which brings to 82 the number of French troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001, is the latest in a string of attacks on foreign troops by Afghan security personnel.
Two French troops were killed in one such attack, also in Kapisa province, in December.
An Afghan army official identified the soldier behind Friday's attack as Abdul Saboor and said he had been arrested by the coalition forces.
Longuet he would assess the recruitment practices of the army before making recommendations on a possible withdrawal.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told a press conference that 15 people were wounded, eight seriously, in what he repeatedly characterized as 'murder.'
Based on Longuet's report, the president and government would decide if the security conditions for French troops were 'credible,' he said.
'If they are not, we will draw the consequences, including the acceleration of the complete withdrawal of our contingent,' Juppe said.
France has about 3,600 troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Some 400 troops returned home last year, as part of a phased withdrawal of coalition troops to be concluded by 2014.
The presidential candidate of the opposition Socialist Party, Francois Hollande, called on France to withdraw its troops 'as quickly as possible, by the end of 2012 by the latest.'
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called it a 'very sad day,' but was quick to describe the incident as 'isolated.'
'The reality is that every day, 130,000 ISAF troops from 50 nations fight and train with over 300,000 Afghan soldiers,' he said. 'That takes a lot of trust among a lot of soldiers.'
'We have the same goal - an Afghanistan that is responsible for its own security,' he said. 'Such tragic incidents are terrible ... but they are isolated.' (DPA(