January 18, 2009:
For each of the last few years, the French Army has had about five Moslem soldiers refusing to serve in Afghanistan. These soldiers claim religious reasons for the refusal, insisting that the Koran forbids Moslems fighting Moslems. Over the last five years, France has been detecting, or at least fearing, loyalty problems among the fifteen percent of its soldiers who are Moslem. The military insists that these second and third generation French soldiers of, for the most part, Arab descent, are loyal.
But many Christian soldiers, NCOs and officers are not so sure. Harassment of Moslem troops by Christian soldiers is common. There have been no major incidents of soldiers turned terrorists, but the abuse from paranoid soldiers, NCOs and officers might push Moslem soldiers to go bad. This is believed more likely because there are few Moslem chaplains. Thus Moslem soldiers seek spiritual advice from clerics with no military experience, and possible a radical agenda. More worrisome is that radicalized soldiers will leave the army equipped with skills they can use for terrorist attacks.
The soldiers refusing to go to Afghanistan are unfazed by the fact that Afghan soldiers have no problem fighting other Moslems, nor are counter-terror forces in many Moslem countries bothered by the Koranic interpretation of the French Moslem soldiers. In the seven years that France has had troops (between 1,000 and 2,600) in Afghanistan, 25 have been killed in combat (including ten paratroopers in one incident). For most of the last seven years, French troops have been stationed in quiet parts of the country, although recently France has allowed its soldiers to serve in the more active south.
The French soldiers who refuse to serve are disciplined, and usually discharged from the army. Since 2001, all French soldiers have been volunteers. Britain went all-volunteer in the 1960s, and the U.S. followed in the 1970s. Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, most European nations have eliminated conscription and gone all-volunteer. France has the highest proportion of Moslem soldiers in its ranks. The French military has 259,000 troops, with about 35,000 stationed overseas.