Francois Hollande, the French president, has made a surprise trip to Afghanistan to visit some of the French troops he wants to pull out later this year, and meet Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.
France would co-ordinate with NATO allies the withdrawal of its combat troops from Afghanistan, Hollande said on Friday during a visit to a military base in Kapisa, where most French troops are stationed in Afghanistan.
The French head of state said the pullout would take place with “good understanding with our allies”, particularly US President Barack Obama.
Hollande was strongly criticised at a NATO summit last weekend for accelerating France’s withdrawal of its roughly
3,400 troops in Afghanistan to the end of this year, two years ahead of the timetable agreed by the alliance.
Hollande said he “will explain himself” to French soldiers why he had decided to pull them out of the war-torn country a year earlier than his predecessor planned, and two years before other NATO combat troops.
“It’s a sovereign decision. Only France can decide what France does. It will be conducted in good understanding with our allies, especially President Obama, who understands the reasons, and in close consultation with Afghan authorities,” the newly elected president said.
“We want France to stay in Afghanistan in a different guise than in the past,” he said, adding that the counter-terror mission “was on the point of completion”, which should be a matter of “great pride”.
“Without having totally disappeared, the terrorist threat to our territory, as with that to our allies from Afghanistan, has been partially curbed,” he added.
Training security forces
In a news conference with Karzai, he said France wanted to help Afghans become self-sufficient, by focusing on education, culture and even archaeology.
He also mentioned economic “prospects” in housing, renewable energy, oil exploration and agriculture, but stopped short of providing any details.
Hollande was accompanied by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Hollande, making the latest in a set of foreign trips since his May 15 inauguration that has taken him to Berlin, Washington, Chicago and Brussels, will pledge to keep to a long-term co-operation treaty signed with Afghanistan.
Hollande said that France will pull its 2,000 combat troops, out of a total of 3,300, out by the end of the year. Some would stay behind to help send military equipment back to France, and others would help train the Afghan army and police.
He did not provide a breakdown for the roles of the 1,300 soldiers who will remain past 2012 or how long they would stay.
Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse reporting from Kabul, said: “Hollande and Karzai will discuss what role France will have in Afghanistan after 2013, as France will need to honour the commitments made by Nicolas Sarkozy, when he was president.”
At least 83 French soldiers have been killed during their deployment, which began in 2001.