May 23, 2013
France to withdraw 1,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said during a visit to Afghanistan today that France would pull out 1,000 troops by the end of 2012, as it speeds up its withdrawal alongside the United States. In a surprise five-hour trip, Sarkozy met Afghan President Hamid Karzai, had a working lunch with General David Petraeus, the top US commander in the country, and visited French troops in the region of Surobi, east of Kabul.
Sarkozy, who followed US President Barack Obama's June announcement of faster troop withdrawal, said France's remaining soldiers would be based in Kapisa province and that all combat units would be brought home by the end of 2014. After that, some soldiers would remain in Afghanistan to train Afghan forces. "You have to know how to end a war," Sarkozy said. Sarkozy's third trip to Afghanistan since he came to power in 2007 coincided with the killing of Karzai's influential brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, who was apparently shot by one of his bodyguards.
France has 4,000 troops in Afghanistan and has seen 64 of its soldiers killed since it joined the US- and NATO-led Afghanistan operation in 2001. The latest casualty was killed yesterday by an accidental shot from his own camp in Kapisa. The quicker pullout could give Sarkozy a boost ahead of the April 2012 presidential election, where he faces a tough battle from the left-wing opposition to win a second term.
An opinion poll after the death of former al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in May showed more than half of French people support a withdrawal from the nearly decade-old military campaign against Taliban insurgents.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France's withdrawal would be limited to the Surobi region, east of Kabul. "We believe this region is now secure and the time has come to pass the baton to the Afghan troops," he told France Info radio. Sarkozy's visit followed a trip by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the weekend and came two days before France's "Bastille Day" national day, which marks the start of the 1789 revolution and will this year honour troops on foreign missions.
The trip also comes shortly after the surprise release of two French TV journalists who had been held hostage by the Taliban for a year and a half in Afghanistan and who were greeted as heros on their return to France at the end of June.