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EUROPE > French exit from Afghanistan must, declares new president

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Nearly 2,000 French troops in Afghanistan will withdraw this year, says Hollande. AFP photo

Nearly 2,000 French troops in Afghanistan will withdraw this year, says Hollande. AFP photo

France’s new president has defended the country’s decision to withdraw its troops one year early from Afghanistan while vowing not to abandon the Central Asian country during an unannounced visit to Kapisa province.

“It’s a sovereign decision. Only France can decide what France does,” François Hollande told French soldiers at Nijrab Base in the volatile eastern province of Kapisa, adding that some 2,000 French combat troops – out of a total of 3,400 troops and 150 gendarmes – would leave in a coordinated withdrawal this year, a year earlier than Paris initially planned and two years before NATO allies.
Hollande also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on his first visit to the country, where French troops have been fighting the Taliban since late 2001.

The president said the threat posed by terrorists in Afghanistan had not been eradicated but has been “partially curbed” since the 2001 invasion toppled the Taliban regime for sheltering Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a news conference with Karzai, Hollande said France wanted to help Afghans become self-sufficient by focusing on education, culture and even archaeology. “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.”

Some troops will stay behind to help send military equipment back to France, and others will help train the Afghan army and police.

Tension over Hollande’s pledge to end his country’s combat mission two years early dominated the NATO summit in Chicago, unleashing fears of a domino effect of early withdrawals by other allies. France is the fourth-largest contributor of troops to NATO’s Afghan mission after the United States, Britain and Germany.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

May/26/2012

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