The election of Socialist Francois Hollande as president of France may have a dramatic impact on French soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan.
About one-fourth of the 3,400 French troops stationed in Afghanistan are scheduled to depart the country by year-end. However, during his campaign, Hollande vowed to withdraw the entire French contingency by that time, or at least accelerate the pace of their exit after more than ten years of war.
In March, about 200 French personnel left Afghanistan following an attack by an Afghan solider that killed four French soldiers and wounded another 15. This tragedy led former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to cancel all training programs for French forces.
However, a NATO officer told the New York Times that such a sudden exit by French troops is unrealistic.
“There are election promises and then there are post-election realities,” he said.
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Indeed, Sarkozy had already signed an agreement with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, to keep French troops in the country at least until the end of next year. Moreover, Paris agreed to have some of its military personnel remain in Afghanistan for the purpose of training security forces there.
“France is a very strong partner of Afghanistan and the Afghan people with a very long history here and a long commitment to the future already signed in their strategic partnership agreement for after 2014,” said NATO spokesman, Dominic Medley.
However, a European diplomat told the Times that France and the U.S. have very different relations with Afghanistan, suggesting the French could easily leave the war-torn nation.
“For the United States, Afghanistan represents a strategic interest,” he said.
“It’s not the same for France and the European Union. There should be more role-sharing in the world, France is more involved in North Africa.”
Hollande is scheduled to attend a NATO summit meeting on security in Afghanistan in Chicago later this month.
At present, France boasts the fifth largest troop regiment among the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan.