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Hollande meets troops and Karzai on surprise trip to Afghanistan

media French President François Hollande reviews the troops at Nijrabbas, Kapisa … Reuters/Joel Saget

French President François Hollande met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Friday morning. Earlier, on a surprise visit to Afghanistan, he told French soldiers that 2,000 of the 3,555 French troops there will be home by the end of the year.

Accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Hollande touched down at the base in Nijrab, Kapisa province, early in the morning.

Dossier: AfPak news and analysis

Withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan was one of Hollande’s few high-profile foreign policy pledges in the recent presidential election campaign.

He came under pressure during last week’s G8 and Nato summits to ditch the commitment but in Nijrab he declared that the withdrawal will take place in an “ordered and coordinated” manner, adding that US President Barack Obama “understands the reasons for it”.

But “France is keeping its links with the country,” he said. “We will continue our development projects.”

Training of Afghan soldiers and police will also continue, although it was the killing of four French soldiers by an Afghan trainee that prompted former president Nicolas Sarkozy to bring his proposed withdrawal date forward to 2013.

As part of the Isaf international force, France held the command of the Kabul region from 2003 to 2009.

It later controlled Surobi province, which passed over to Afghan control in April and Kapisa, a key route to Kabul which is disputed by the Taliban and drug lords.

The Afghan government has officially declared itself ready to take over in Kapisa and Isaf commander US General John Allen claims there will be no degradation in security, but Nato and US officials are reported to fear that the French withdrawal will increase pressure on other governments to pull out ahead of the US’s deadline of the end of 2014.

“In the rush to get out of the quagmire that Afghanistan has become, the US and other Nato member states may well be preparing the ground for more instability, rather than less,” former EU representative in Afghanistan Barbara Stapleton commented in a recent report.

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