France's Sarkozy in Afghanistan to meet troops

12th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday for a surprise visit to meet troops serving with NATO's coalition force, an AFP reporter said.

The French leader flew to Sarobi district, northeast of Kabul, where he was briefed on progress by General Emmanuel Maurin before talking to French soldiers.

He was due to later return to Kabul and meet with the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

It was his third visit to the battle-scarred country since he became president and came two days ahead of the Bastille Day French national holiday. His earlier trips were in December 2007 and in August 2008.

His visit came a day after a 22-year-old French soldier was killed in a shooting blamed on "accidental fire" by another French trooper.

Last month Sarkozy said "several hundred" French troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan before the end of the year.

His office had earlier said France would carry out a progressive pullback of its 4,000 troops "in a proportional manner and in a timeframe similar to the pullback of the American reinforcements".

US President Barack Obama recently ordered all 33,000 US "surge" troops home from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, with the first withdrawals to begin this month. All foreign combat troops will leave by the end of 2014.

Sarkozy said he shared Obama's belief that security had improved since the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May and that the handover to Afghan troops and police was proceeding smoothly.

Should the situation improve, the pullout of all Western combat troops in 2014 might be "brought forward", he said.

Sarkozy's visit comes a few days after that by new US defence chief Leon Panetta and a week after a visit by British Prime Minister David Cameron, with Western leaders focused on efforts to drawdown troops and end the long war.

His trip also comes as commanders prepare to hand over seven NATO-held areas to Afghan control starting in mid-July, although there is widespread doubt over the ability of Afghan forces to take full responsibility for their own security.

US-led coalition forces have been fighting the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan since they invaded in late 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks orchestrated by Osama bin Laden.

© 2011 AFP

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