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Sarkozy Sends Army Chief to Afghanistan

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (C) and Defense Minister Gerard Longuet (L) leave the Percy hospital in Clamart, neat Paris after visiting French soldiers wounded in Afghanistan, July 14, 2011

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is sending his army chief to Afghanistan to study ways to enhance the safety of French soldiers as they begin withdrawal from the country.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet made the announcement after Mr. Sarkozy called an emergency meeting Thursday, following the deaths of six French soldiers in Afghanistan in the past two days.

Longuet said General Elrick Irastorza would leave immediately for Afghanistan to assess the situation there. He is expected to report back to the president within a week.

Mr. Sarkozy called the meeting with his top security advisers Thursday in Paris to talk about how to keep French soldiers safe during the transition process out of Afghanistan. He said the withdrawal period is the most complex part of the French mission in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday during a visit to Afghanistan, Mr. Sarkozy announced that France will pull out 1,000 or a quarter of its troops by the end of 2012. Most international combat forces are set to leave Afghanistan and transfer security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

The French president's office also announced that another French soldier died Thursday in an attack by insurgents in Afghanistan's Alasay Valley, northeast of Kabul. The day before, five French soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up near French troops who were protecting a local council meeting in the Joybar area of Kapisa province.

Thursday's death brings the number of French troops killed in the country to 70 since 2001. France has about 4,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Wednesday's attack on French forces was the deadliest since 2008, when 10 soldiers were killed and 21 wounded in a Taliban ambush in the Uzbin Valley, south of the Afghan capital.

Violence is at its worst point in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion almost a decade ago.