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French president announces withdrawal of 1,000 troops from Afghanistan

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that France will withdraw 1,000 troops from its mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2012. The president made the announcement during a surprise visit to Afghanistan.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on a visit to Kabul in 2008

Sarkozy said the troops would leave by the end of 2012

France will withdraw a quarter of its troops, a total of around 1,000 soldiers, from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced during an unannounced five-hour visit to the country on Tuesday.

Sarkozy met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top US General David Petraeus. He also visited French troops at a base in the district of Sarobi, north of the capital Kabul.

"It's necessary to end the war," he told journalists at a base. "There was never a question of keeping troops in Afghanistan indefinitely."

He said France's remaining soldiers would be concentrated in Kapisa province.

Phased withdrawal

The French leader announced last month that "hundreds" of French troops would leave "by the end of the year, early next year" following the United States' announcement of a limited pullout.

The US, which has the largest contingent of foreign forces in Afghanistan, has announced that all 33,000 "surge" troops will leave by the end of next summer.

French soldiers have been involved in the US and NATO-led Afghanistan operation since 2001 and France has lost 64 soldiers from its 4,000-strong contingent. On Monday, a soldier was killed by an accidental shot from his own camp in Kapisa.

The early pullout could give Sarkozy a boost ahead of the April 2012 presidential election, where he faces a tough battle from the leftwing opposition to win a second term.

An opinion poll after the US killing of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May showed more than half of French people support a withdrawal.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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