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French president makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

France's President Francois Hollande gives a speech to French soldiers during a visit to a military base in Kapisa where a large number of French combat troops are stationed in Afghanistan on May 25, 2012.


French President Francois Hollande made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Friday to visit some of the French troops he wants to pull out later this year and meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom he saw briefly last week in Chicago.

Mr. Hollande, making a whirl of foreign trips since his May 15 inauguration, is accelerating the withdrawal of the roughly 3,400 French troops still stationed in Afghanistan to the end of this year, two years ahead of the NATO timetable.

His office said he would pledge to keep to a long-term co-operation treaty signed with Kabul earlier this year.

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Mr. Hollande's new withdrawal timetable is at odds with NATO partners adhering to a plan to hand over command of all combat missions to Afghan forces by the middle of 2013 and withdraw most of the 130,000 foreign troops there by the end of 2014.

Some 2,000 troops are due to leave this year but some will remain to provide support and training, and to look after equipment. France has 14 helicopters, 900 vehicles and 1,400 containers that need to be taken out via road and plane.

France has been asked to contribute just under $200 million a year for long-term funding for Afghanistan, part of an annual bill estimated at $4.1 billion to maintain Afghan forces after 2014. Mr. Hollande has signalled that he will commit to nothing until it is clear how the money will be managed.

Mr. Hollande, who defeated conservative Nicolas Sarkozy in a May 6 election run-off, was accompanied on his trip by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Since his swearing in last week he has made official trips to Berlin and Washington, and attended G8 and NATO summits in the United States and a European Union leaders summit in Brussels.

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