French President Nicolas Sarkozy says France will pull its troops out of Afghanistan next year -- a year earlier than planned. Friday's announcement came following talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Paris.
The announcement came a week after France suspended combat operations in Afghanistan, after an Afghan soldier shot dead four French troops and wounded more than a dozen others.
At a press conference with Mr. Karzai, the French leader said he and Mr. Karzai had agreed to ask NATO to consider handing over the responsibility of combat missions in Afghanistan to Afghan forces in 2013.
Mr. Sarkozy said this gradual transfer of operations will allow France to plan for the return of all its fighting forces by the end of next year -- rather than in 2014, as had been previously planned. He said 400 soldiers already returned home last year. Another 1,000 out of the 3,600 remaining combat forces could follow them this year. But he said France would continue to help train Afghan soldiers.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called on France to respect the original 2014 troop pullout calendar. Mr. Sarkozy said he will speak with U.S. President Barack Obama Saturday, but he said Mr. Obama is informed about the French announcements.
President Sarkozy had warned after the troop deaths last week that France might pull out its troops from Afghanistan earlier than expected. France is the fourth largest force in the NATO coalition, and so far, 82 French soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan during the decade of French military presence there.
Mr. Sarkozy's announcement may also be for domestic consumption, coming just weeks before French presidential elections. But there are concerns that an early French pullout from Afghanistan may prompt other troop contributors to consider doing likewise.