France's new president Francois Hollande made an unannounced first visit to Kabul on Friday, where he declared that it's time for a sovereign Afghanistan.
While the trip was a surprise, Hollande's announcement that France will withdraw its troops by the end of the year was predated by a number of campaign promises to do as much.
France currently has 3,500 troops in Afghanistan, the fifth largest contingent of the coalition force. Its mission in Afghanistan was originally scheduled to end alongside the United States' in 2014, but after an incident in January of this year, when an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French soldiers on a military base in Kapisa province, Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy decided to pull out troops a year early.
A total of 83 French soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001.
According to Hollande, France will still be present in Afghanistan in the coming years, but the next phase of its involvement will look different from the last.
Around 1,300 soldiers will stay past 2012, but France's cooperation will focus on civilian fronts, the president said, meaning that he will work with the Afghan government on housing, renewable energy and agriculture projects. The goal is to allow the Afghans to be self-sufficient, and Hollande has also indicated that France could build a medical college and a cultural center, Libération noted.
Additionally, many of the troops left behind will oversee the gradual shipment of 14 helicopters, 900 vehicles and 1,400 containers back home, Reuters reported, and some will stay to train the Afghan security teams who will take control of Kapisa.
We want France to have a presence in Afghanistan differently from how it did in the past, Hollande said, one that is useful in a different way.
The United States is also trying to keep personnel in Afghanistan after its mission expires and is in negotiations with Kabul about leaving a small training force in the country after 2014.