Troops out this year, says Hollande
All French combat forces will pull out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, France's new president said in Kabul. Some trainers will remain to help Afghanistan's security forces.
Francois Hollande said that France's troops have carried out their mission in Afghanistan and it is time for them to leave, an early pullout that will be co-ordinated with the United States and other allies.
"There will be no combat troops" after the end of the year, Mr Hollande said during a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He flew to Afghanistan to meet troops and to discuss plans with Mr Karzai to withdraw combat troops more than a year earlier than scheduled.
His visit was not announced ahead of time for security reasons, and he was expected to depart shortly after the news conference.
Mr 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.
He said that continued cooperation was discussed over lunch with Mr Karzai "because there will continue to be trainers who will work with (Afghan) soldiers and police."
France has signed an agreement with Afghanistan that calls for co-operation after 2014.
During an earlier meeting with French troops at a base in the Nijrab district of the eastern Kapisa province, Mr Hollande said "several reasons justify this decision to withdraw our combat troops from Afghanistan."
"The time for Afghan sovereignty has come," he said. "The terrorist threat that targeted our territory, while it hasn't totally disappeared, is in part lessened."
His predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, had pledged to withdraw all troops by the end of 2013 but Mr Hollande, elected president this month, made a more immediate pullout a pillar of his campaign.