Roots of Terror Lie Beyond Afghan Borders
KABUL - French President Nicolas Sarkozy said during a visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday 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 President Hamid Karzai, had a working lunch with General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the country, and visited French troops in the region of Surobi, east of Kabul.
Sarkozy, who followed U.S. 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.
He said Afghanistan had always been the victim of foreign interference. "I insist and call on the Pakistani government to play an effective role in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan," he said.
He said much of the problem in Afghanistan was linked to the situation across the border, a reference to militant sanctuaries in the Pakistani tribal region which borders Afghanistan.
Sarkozy's third trip to Afghanistan since he came to power in 2007.
French soldiers have been involved in the U.S.- and NATO-led Afghanistan operation since 2001 and 64 soldiers have been killed, including a soldier killed on Monday 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 U.S. Defence 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 honor 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 heroes on their return to France at the end of June.
Critics say the withdrawal plan could jeopardize the next major push of the war, to unseat insurgents in the east of the country bordering Pakistan where the situation has deteriorated.
Nearly 1,700 U.S. military personnel have been killed since the war began. (Reuters)