French Defense Minister Visits Afghanistan

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French defense Minister Gerard Longuet held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Saturday on a two-day visit to Afghanistan to meet troops over the New Year.

Longuet touched down in Kabul two days after the death of two French Foreign Legion soldiers who were shot dead by a man wearing an Afghan army uniform in eastern Kapisa province.

The minister and Karzai discussed the strategic partnership deal being negotiated between the two countries, which will govern their relationship after troops pull out in 2014.

The partnership is set to be signed in late January, a statement from the president's office said.

"Thanking France for its assistance especially in training the Afghan National Army, the president also expressed his condolences over the loss of two French soldiers," the statement said.

Thursday's incident took the death toll among French troops since the start of the war in 2001 to 78.

After the withdrawal of 400 troops this year, France now has 3,600 soldiers in Afghanistan serving under ISAF.

The French death toll in 2011 stands at 26, the highest for the country in the 10-year war, and includes five who were killed in a suicide attack in Kapisa in July.

There are about 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan fighting alongside Afghan government forces against a Taliban-led insurgency.

NATO is handing security over to Afghan forces ahead of the withdrawal of all its combat troops by the end of 2014 and the French have been involved in training up the Afghan army.

After the two deaths in the Tagab valley, France said it was committed to helping develop the Afghan military and described the shooting as an isolated incident.

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