Time has come for Afghan sovereignty: Hollande
KABUL (PAN): French President Francois Hollande who arrived on a surprise visit to Kabul on Friday said their cooperation with Afghanistan will focus on civilian fronts, defending his plan for early exit.
Speaking at a joint press conference with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, Hollande said he travelled to Afghanistan for two reasons --- to visit some of the French troops he wants to pull out later this year and to assess the security transition process.
At a NATO summit last weekend, Hollande was strongly criticised for accelerating France's withdrawal of its roughly 3,400 troops in Afghanistan to the end of this year, two years ahead of the timetable agreed by the alliance.
However, Hollande told reporters the mission of fighting terrorism and chasing out the Taliban was close to being accomplished. “This is something we can be very proud of," he said.
The French president, who also visited troops from his country at their base in Kapisa province, said they did not want a symbolic presence in Afghanistan, but wanted some of their troops to remain in Afghanistan to provide support and training to Afghan forces.
Promising an orderly pullout in close coordination with France’ allies, Hollande thanked French troops for what they had done for France and Afghanistan and also paid homage to the 83 French soldiers killed in the war.
He said the time had come for Afghan sovereignty and the terrorist threat that targeted their territory had not completely disappeared, but partially suppressed.
At the NATO summit in Chicago May 20-21, France has been asked to contribute just under $200 million a year for long-term funding for Afghanistan, part of an annual bill estimated at $4.1 billion to maintain Afghan forces after 2014.
The summit decided that the security transition process will be completed by mid-2013 and ISAF combat mission will end at the end of 2014.
Hollande promised his country would continue to cooperate with Afghanistan in various sectors, including supporting the ministries of interior and defence in training Afghan forces.
“We want to work with Afghanistan in a different way,” he said, referring to a friendship and cooperation agreement with Afghanistan.
President Hamid Karzai and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation in January 2012.
President Karzai thanked France for its assistance to Afghanistan, saying Afghanistan-France friendship was 50 years old.
He said he had discussed with Hollande issues of mutual interest, cooperation and regional security. He hoped the maiden visit by President Hollande would help make relations between the two nations stronger and provide a base for future actions.
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