|NATO is training Afghan forces to take security responsibility of the country [EPA]|
France will join the US in pulling some of its troops out of Afghanistan next year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday as he hailed “progress” in the campaign against the Taliban.
Sarkozy said French troops sent to Afghanistan since a US-led “surge” in 2009 would begin to return home within the same timeframe as a phased US withdrawal announced by US President Barack Obama on Wednesday night.
France currently contributes around 4,000 troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the country.
“Given the progress we have seen, France will begin a gradual withdrawal of reinforcement troops sent to Afghanistan, in a proportional manner and in a calendar comparable to the withdrawal of American reinforcements,” Sarkozy’s office said after he spoke to Obama by telephone.
Australia, Britain and Germany also welcomed Obama’s announcement that 33,000 troops would be pulled out by next summer while the remaining would withdraw by 2014.
Obama plans to hand over security responsibility of the country that the US invaded in 2001 to Afghan forces by that year.
Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, pledged continued co-operation with US military operations in Afghanistan.
Australia is the largest contributor of troops to the Afghan conflict outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
David Cameron, the British prime minister, also backed Obama’s withdrawal timetable.
“The prime minister fully agreed (with) the president’s assessment, noting the good progress being made on security transition,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said.
Cameron “agreed that in due course the progress on transition would make it possible to sustain pressure on the insurgency while allowing a progressive reduction in International Security Assistance Force force levels,” it added.
Britain’s support for US troop withdrawal came amid its own negotiations with Taliban.
William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, on Thursday told BBC Radio that British officials were in touch with Taliban representatives to help pave the way for peace.
“Contacts do take place with the Taliban. I think it is fair for us to say officially that contacts do take place,” He said.
Praise for Obama’s decision also came from Germany, with its foreign minister saying that Germany would also cut its troop presence there this year.
“The prospect of withdrawal is now becoming concrete,’ Guido Westerwelle said in statement.
Westerwelle stressed that “it is also our aim to be able to reduce our own German troop contingent for the first time at the end of this year.”
Germany has some 4,900 troops in northern Afghanistan and has not yet settled on details of its pullback.
NATO also described the planned US withdrawal as a “natural result” of progress made in the war against the Taliban.
“We can see the tide is turning. The Taliban are under pressure. The Afghan security forces are getting stronger every day. And the transition to Afghan security lead is on track to be completed in 2014,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, its secretary-general, said.