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May 25, 2012

French President Defends Afghan Withdrawal Timetable

by Lisa Bryant

French President Francois Hollande has defended his plan to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the year's end, during a surprise visit to the restive country Friday.

During his brief visit to Afghanistan, President Francois Hollande met with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, and French forces in the country's restive Kapisa province - many of whom will be heading home this year.

Hollande told the soldiers that although France will withdraw its combat troops by the end of December, Paris will keep a military presence in the country. He also said France will continue to support Afghan civilians in other ways.  

The president is holding firm to a campaign pledge for an early withdrawal of the majority of France's roughly 3,300 troops from Afghanistan - two years ahead of a 2014 deadline previously set by NATO and the United States. Hollande says French advisers and trainers will remain to help the Afghan government - and that non-military French aid will be increased.

Hollande's conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, previously announced French troops would withdraw by 2013. Hollande is now speeding up this timetable.

But a former Sarkozy advisor, Henri Guaino, cast doubt on Hollande's ability to keep his promise. In an interview on French radio, Guaino predicted French forces would only be partially withdrawn from Afghanistan by the year's end.

Hollande's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was criticized during the recent NATO summit in Chicago. In addition to troops, the French government must also take out 14 helicopters, hundreds of vehicles and other material from Afghanistan.