The Grim French View on Afghanistan

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Obama met Monday morning in the Situation Room with his national security team for his monthly assessment of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This month’s meeting serves to kick off several weeks of debate over the pace of the draw down of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan, which Obama has said will start in July.

Joe, Mark and others have outlined the parameters of the debate, but as it begins in earnest, a key ally is in town presenting a relatively depressing picture of the Afghan situation. Despite the surge, and despite the positive talk of U.S. and NATO generals on the ground, progress against the Taliban is falling short, says French foreign minister Alain Juppe.

“The strategy doesn’t succeed as well as we expected on the ground,” Juppe told a small group of journalists this morning in Washington, ahead of his meetings with State Department and White House officials. For starters, gains against the Taliban are not always clear, even when claimed by the military, Juppe said. And he reported that diplomats in the country are more skeptical of the claims of progress than the generals are.

More concerning for the long term, Afghan police and military forces are proving difficult to train. When and whether Afghans will be able to take over security responsibility in much of the country is in doubt, Juppe said. France is playing a key role in training Afghan troops. Juppe says Paris remains committed to its 4,000 strong deployment through 2014 and that he has been told the potential American draw-down to be announced in coming weeks ranges from 3,000 to 30,000.

Juppe also said that the United States is engaged in tripartite talks with the Taliban and Pakistan. The U.S. has for several years now said that it wants the Taliban to be part of the solution, but it has had difficulty finding credible interlocutors on the Taliban side who are willing to talk peace. Juppe said the talks are underway “as we speak,” but did not detail the extent or nature of the negotiations.