Sun, Jan 29, 2012 - Page 1 News List

France set to exit Afghanistan early

AFP and AP, Paris and Kabul

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday that France would pull its forces out of Afghanistan a year earlier than planned, a week after the killing of four French servicemen by a renegade Afghan soldier.

After meeting Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Paris, Sarkozy said France had decided to transfer security in Kapisa Province, where most of the 3,600-strong French contingent is based and the scene of the shooting, to Afghan forces from March of this year.

“The pursuit of the transition and this gradual transfer of combat responsibilities will allow us to plan for a return of all our combat forces by the end of [next year],” Sarkozy said, adding that 1,000 troops would return this year.

This decision was made “in agreement with President Karzai and in agreement with our allies, in an organized and reasonable way,” he said.

“A few hundred” French troops would stay on after next year to train Afghan troops, Sarkozy said.

However, an Afghan lawmaker sharply criticized the plans. Afghan Member of Parliament Tahira Mujadedi said yesterday that Kapisa Province would further descend into violence if Afghan forces take over security from NATO troops in March.

Mujadedi also said it would be “a big mistake” for Karzai to push Sarkozy’s proposal to speed up NATO’s timetable for handing all combat operations to Afghan forces to next year instead of 2014.

Meanwhile, French training operations in Afghanistan, suspended after the shooting, were due to resume yesterday, Sarkozy said.

The French president said he would speak to US President Barack Obama on Saturday.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the French announcement was part of the “managed effort” to withdraw from Afghanistan.

“This was not precipitous ... this was worked through carefully with NATO, with the Afghans and in consultation with all of us,” she said.

“There were some concerns expressed in NATO countries ... as well as in Afghanistan that whatever was done needed to be done in a consultative fashion, needed to be done in a managed fashion,” Nuland said. “And what we see now is just that, a consulted and managed effort.”

A NATO spokeswoman said only: “We take note of the French statement.”

Karzai is on a five-day European trip to sign long-term strategic partnership agreements aimed at bolstering support for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development.

He was to travel next to London to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Most French — 84 percent of them — want their troops back home by the end of this year, -according to an opinion poll published this week.

Socialist French presidential candidate Francois Hollande, tipped to beat Sarkozy in elections in three months, pledged on Thursday to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan this year if he becomes president.

After the deaths of the four soldiers, Sarkozy sent French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet to Kabul to evaluate ways to improve the security of French troops training the Afghan army.

Sarkozy said after the attacks that he might accelerate France’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, prompting NATO’s chief to call on contributing nations to remain committed to the security transition.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he understood French concerns, but noted that NATO nations had agreed on a 2014 date to withdraw combat forces and transfer security to Afghans.

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