KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BNO NEWS) -- During a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Friday, President François Hollande of France defended his decision to withdraw French combat troops two years before the rest of the U.S.-led force in Afghanistan, saying the mission against insurgents is almost accomplished.
Accompanied by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Hollande arrived in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Friday morning to meet with French troops, pay his respects to the 83 French soldiers killed in the war, and meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Hollande has received criticism for going ahead with his election pledge to pull out French combat troops by the end of 2012, a year earlier than the deadline set by former president Nicolas Sarkozy and two years before the 130,000-strong U.S.-led NATO force is scheduled to withdraw.
"The mission of fighting terrorism and chasing out the Taliban is close to being accomplished," Hollande said in Kabul. "This is something we can be very proud of." With about 3,300 soldiers, France is the fifth largest contributor to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Hollande wants to withdraw 2,000 of them by the end of the year, leaving only 1,300 non-combat troops.
The new French president said the withdrawal, which he called a 'sovereign decision', will take place in close consultation with the Afghan government and NATO allies. The remaining 1,300 non-combat troops will oversee the repatriation of equipment, provide support and train Afghan security forces.
U.S. President Barack Obama previously ordered a drawdown of 23,000 U.S. troops by the end of this summer, and foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The ISAF force currently includes some 90,000 U.S. soldiers and more than 9,500 British soldiers.
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