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France to begin Afghan pullout next month

June 10, 2012

TULLE (France), June 9: French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday that France would begin its pullout from Afghanistan next month and complete it by year-end, after four French troops were killed on the eve of key elections.

The withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan was one of Hollande's presidential electoral promises. It “will begin in the month of July, will be carried out and be completed at the end of 2012,” the French president said.

“In the meantime, everything must be done for our troops to meet their obligations but with the highest level of security and with the greatest vigilance for the lives of the soldiers.

“I am making this engagement here and I will be the guarantor for this operation,” Hollande said in Tulle, where he was to attend a commemoration of the massacre of civilians by the Nazis on June 9, 1944.

Some 3,500 French soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan, mainly in Kabul and in the eastern Kapisa province.

Since January's attack, France has began accelerating the withdrawal of its troops, and French soldiers have been given instructions to minimise their exposure.

While former right-wing French president Nicolas Sarkozy had fixed a deadline of end-2013 to bring home combat troops, Hollande, who defeated Sarkozy in May presidential elections, has decided to bring the timetable forward.

France returns to the polls on Sunday in the first round of legislative elections in which Hollande's Socialists and their allies are hoping to win control of the National Assembly from the conservatives.

Although Hollande's decision met with little resistance from Nato partners during a recent summit in Chicago, the actual pullout remains a complex process.

It would involve bringing 2,000 combat troops home within six months, with the remaining personnel to stay behind to take charge of repatriating military equipment including 900 armoured vehicles and over 1,000 containers.

Francois Heisbourg from the International Institute for Strategic Studies noted that the withdrawal of Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1990s took place with little losses.

“Normally, it is not in the interest of the insurgents to delay the withdrawal, but they are divided among themselves and some could try to outdo the others,” he said.

France provides the fifth largest contingent to Nato’s 130,000-strong US-led force. Allies have downplayed the impact of their early departure, saying Afghan troops are ready to take over.—AFP