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Published: Saturday, 5/26/2012

French leader assures troops they're leaving Afghanistan


KABUL, Afghanistan -- French President Francois Hollande made a surprise visit to French troops in Afghanistan on Friday, assuring them that their mission in the war-torn country would be over this year.

The visit occurred less than a week after the new French president announced at a NATO summit that France would pull its troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, two years ahead of the 2014 deadline previously agreed to for withdrawal.

At a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Mr. Hollande said that although French combat forces would leave this year, advisers and trainers would remain to help the Afghan defense and interior ministries.

Mr. Hollande also said French nonmilitary aid will be increased. He did not give any specifics.

For the first time, the French leader provided details of the withdrawal plan, saying he would leave about 1,400 soldiers to help with training and logistics.

Mr. Hollande's comments marked the first time he had put an exact figure on the French deployment after the combat troops leave, suggesting that logistical necessities for France as well as its support for Afghanistan's hoped-for transition to peace will go well beyond the year-end target.

"The time for Afghan sovereignty has come," Mr. Hollande said during a meeting with French troops. "The terrorist threat that targeted our territory, while it hasn't totally disappeared, is in part lessened."

Mr. Hollande, who took office last week, said that after more than a decade in Afghanistan, French combat troops had carried out their mission and it was time for them to leave in a pullout coordinated with the United States and other allies.

France has 3,400 soldiers and 150 police officers in Afghanistan.

Under Mr. Hollande's plan, some would stay behind to help send military equipment back to France and others would help train the Afghan army and police.

He did not provide a breakdown for the roles of the 1,400 soldiers who will remain nor how long they would stay.

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