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U.S., French Officials In Kabul For Talks

A French soldier stands guard as French Defense Minister France Gerard Longuet (right) pays his respects in front of the coffins of the four French soldiers killed in Afghanistan during a ceremony at Kabul Airport on January 21.
U.S. envoy Marc Grossman has arrived in Kabul for talks with President Hamid Karzai on preliminary peace talks with Taliban insurgents.

Grossman said in a statement after arriving in Kabul on January 21 that "the United States stands ready to assist in any way we can an Afghan-led reconciliation process to find a peaceful end to this conflict."

"I look forward to calling on President Karzai and discussing next steps," he added.

Grossman's visit comes not long after the Taliban announced it planned to open a political office in Qatar ahead of talks with Washington aimed at ending ten years of civil strife in Afghanistan.

Analysts say Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dispatched Grossman to Kabul to discuss the development with Karzai, who was reportedly concerned that he would be sidelined in the Qatar talks.

Grossman's visit comes a day after French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was considering an early exit from Afghanistan after an Afghan soldier shot dead four unarmed French troops and wounded many others on January 20.

The AFP news agency has since reported that France's defense minister has arrived in Kabul for top-level talks.

Gerard Longuet briefly met 12 of the French soldiers wounded in the attack.

Longuet later said the French soldiers killed in Afghanistan earlier this week were shot dead by a member of the Taliban who had "infiltrated" the Afghan National Army.

Gerard Longuet made the comments during a meeting with General Nazar, commander of the 3rd Afghan Army brigade, at the main French base in eastern Afghanistan.

The French foreign minister was also scheduled to hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other top Afghan and NATO officials in Kabul later on January 21.

Longuet is expected to use his visit to evaluate the dangers facing the French mission responsible for training Afghan troops.

His report will determine whether France decides to recall its military contingent earlier than the end of 2014 date Paris has previously announced. France has 3,600 troops in Afghanistan. More than 80 have been killed since 2001.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have also indicated that the Afghan who killed the French soldiers on January 20 was one of their recruits.

Using another name that the Islamist group use to call themselves, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone that "the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has recruited people in important positions. Some of them have already accomplished their missions."

A regional Taliban commander added that incidents such as a video showing U.S. Marines urinating on corpses were boosting support for the group among Afghans and threatened more attacks.

"Our missions have become easier because of incidents like the video," he said.

Despite the presence of more than 100,000 foreign troops, violence across Afghanistan remains at its worst levels since the Taliban were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, according to the United Nations.

compiled from agency reports