French Muslim Troops Refuse Afghan Duty

January 15, 2009 -- French Muslim soldiers have refused to serve in Afghanistan, saying their faith forbids them from fighting fellow Muslims, a military spokesman confirmed to AFP.

"The refusal to be assigned to a mission for religious reasons is a micro-phenomenon concerning fewer than five cases per year," said Colonel Benoit Royal, confirming a report on the website of left-wing daily Liberation.

Liberation's respected "Defence Secret" blog reported Wednesday that an infantry soldier in eastern France had in October refused to be stationed in Afghanistan but later agreed, after meeting with a Muslim chaplain.

Soldiers who refuse a mission face disciplinary action and in most cases are discharged from the army, Royal said.

The army spokesman said the refusal by some soldiers showed a "lack of understanding of their commitment which is to bear arms for France to defend its interests and values at all times and everywhere."

France has 2,600 troops serving in NATO's Afghan mission to shore up the weak government of President Hamid Karzai and battle the Taliban, who were driven out of Kabul in late 2001.

France's force is one of the largest there, after the United States, Britain, Canada and Germany. In all, 25 French soldiers have died on the mission, with casualties increasing since they were reinforced last year. (Agence France-Presse)

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