Hollande defends French exit in Afghanistan

President Francois Hollande on Friday defended France's imminent exit from Afghanistan, saying 2,000 combat troops will leave in a coordinated withdrawal this year but vowing not to abandon the country.

Hollande met French soldiers deployed in the volatile province of Kapisa and held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on his first visit to the country where French troops have been fighting the Taliban since late 2001.

He explained his decision to recall French combat troops by the end of 2012, a year earlier than Paris initially planned, and two years before NATO allies.

"It's a sovereign decision. Only France can decide what France does," he told soldiers at Nijrab Base in eastern province Kapisa, where most of France's 3,550 troops in the country are based.

"It will be conducted in good understanding with our allies, especially President (Barack) Obama, who understands the reasons, and in close consultation with Afghan authorities," Hollande said.

Kapisa, which commands part of the access to Kabul from Taliban flashpoints on the Pakistani border, has proved a tough fight for the French, troubled by turf wars between the Islamist insurgents and drug dealers.

Hollande said the threat posed by terrorists in Afghanistan had not been eradicated but had been "partially curbed" since the 2001 invasion toppled the Taliban regime for sheltering Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.

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

He also mentioned economic "prospects" in housing, renewable energy, oil exploration and agriculture, but stopped short of providing any details.

Paris has so far reserved judgement on contributing to the cost of the Afghan security budget, estimated at $4.1 billion a year from 2015.

"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".

By the end of the year, there would be no more French combat troops in Afghanistan, he said. "We will repatriate 2,000 people. At the beginning of 2013, the only personnel will be in charge of repatriating our equipment."

Hollande later met members of the local French community at the French embassy before leaving Afghanistan after a visit of some eight hours.

France, which has lost 83 soldiers in Afghanistan, provides the fifth largest contingent to NATO's 130,000-strong US-led force. Allies have downplayed the effect of their early departure, saying Afghan troops are ready to take over.

The relatively quiet Kabul district of Surobi, where French troops are also based, was handed over to local control in April.

Kapisa has been included in the third of a five-phase transfer, which Afghan officials say could take as little as six months, but which NATO's International Security Assistance Force has timetabled at 12-18 months.

Analysts have expressed concern about NATO's withdrawal, pointing out that Afghan forces have a mixed record at best and questioning whether a security vacuum will only heighten violence if not hasten a return to civil war.

"Clearly there is a rush for the exits by Western leaders, but there is no Plan B to address worsening battlefield conditions and political crises if they occur," wrote veteran Afghan watcher, Ahmed Rashid, in The New York Review of Books.

Separate bomb attacks on the day of Hollande's visit killed five people and wounded at least 11 others in the south, officials said.

More Afghan civilians died in 2011 than the total number of NATO troops, 3,009, killed since 2001. And last year's 3,021 civilian deaths marked the fifth straight year that the toll has risen, according to UN figures.

The number of internal refugees last year hit nearly half a million, the highest for about a decade, part of what Amnesty International has called "a largely hidden but horrific humanitarian and human rights crisis".

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • 15 wounded in 2 explosions in restive southern Philippines

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) — At least 15 people have been wounded in two separate blasts that hit a police camp in a restive southern Philippine province where Muslim militants operate, police said Saturday. …

  • 15 wounded in mosque attack at Philippine police camp
    15 wounded in mosque attack at Philippine police camp

    Fifteen people including 10 police officers were wounded in an attack on a mosque at police camp on a remote Philippine island long plagued by Islamic militancy, officials said on Saturday. Successive blasts targeted the mosque inside Camp Kasim on the island of Jolo early evening Friday -- an initial grenade attack followed by a bomb explosion less than 10 minutes later that was intended to target police who rushed to the scene, local authorities said. "It seems the (first) explosion was set …

  • US missile cruiser docks at Subic
    US missile cruiser docks at Subic

    A US Navy missile cruiser has dropped anchor in Subic Bay as part of “routine port call,” amid rising tension in the West Philippine Sea stirred by China’s island building activities and other threatening moves by its forces. The arrival of the Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67) at the Subic Bay Freeport in Olongapo City yesterday was “just a routine port visit for ship replenishment and routine maintenance of shipboard system,” said Philippine Navy Public Affairs Office …

  • Agri, power sectors should brace for El Niño
    Agri, power sectors should brace for El Niño

    The agriculture and power sectors, as well as the general public should brace for a prolonged El Niño phenomenon that could further reduce water supply for electricity and irrigation, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) warned yesterday. Flaviana Hilario, acting deputy administrator for research and development of PAGASA, said the El Niño condition is expected to intensify from weak to moderate by August this year. Anthony Lucero, …

  • China to US: Help cool down Phl on sea row
    China to US: Help cool down Phl on sea row

    The US should help “cool down” the Philippines and realize that its meddling in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute would only stir tensions, a Chinese newspaper reported. “Washington should know its meddling in the South China Sea has been destabilizing the region. The US has vowed not to take sides in the territorial dispute, which involves China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. …

  • No stopping K to 12 despite SC case, protests
    No stopping K to 12 despite SC case, protests

    K to 12 is the fruit of years of comprehensive consultations involving different sectors in education,” Aquino said during the launching of the program at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City. Organized by the Department of Education (DepEd), the launch was attended by teachers, students and representatives from different stakeholders supportive of the K to 12 program. It was held two years after the signing of Republic Act 10533, or the Enhanced Basic Education …

  • MNLF pushes review of peace pact with gov’t
    MNLF pushes review of peace pact with gov’t

    The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) maintained its bid for completion of the tripartite review of the implementation of the peace agreement with the Philippine government in 1996. The MNLF’s desire to put consensual closure to the tripartite effort was relayed by its leaders to Sayed El-Masry, the special envoy of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), during the annual foreign ministers conference in Kuwait last Thursday. The MNLF peace agreement with the government in Sept. 2, …

  • Noy to raise sea dispute issue with Abe
    Noy to raise sea dispute issue with Abe

    President Aquino is expected to raise the West Philippine Sea dispute during his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan next week. However, there is no word yet if the Philippines will specifically ask Tokyo to join calls for China to stop its massive reclamation activities in disputed waters. Aquino will leave for Tokyo on June 2 for a state visit until June 5. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options