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French president Francois Hollande, in Afghanistan, defends early troop withdrawal

Francois Hollande, the newly elected French president, arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit on Friday, using the occasion to defend his decision for the early withdrawal of French troops.

Francois Hollande Afghanistan 2012 5 25Enlarge
French President Francois Hollande reviews troops, on May 25, 2012 during a visit to a military base in Kapisa, in Afghanistan, where most French troops are stationed in Afghanistan. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Francois Hollande, the newly elected French president, arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit on Friday, using the occasion to defend his decision for the early withdrawal of French troops.

"It's a sovereign decision. Only France can decide what France does," Britain's Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying during an address to the French soldiers at Nijrab Base in the northeastern Afghan province of Kapisa. 

"It will be conducted in good understanding with our allies, especially President Obama, who understands the reasons, and in close consultation with Afghan authorities."

Hollande announced at this week's NATO summit in Chicago that France would withdraw its 2,000 troops a year earlier than planned, and two years before its NATO allies.

A total of 83 French soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since October 2001, according to a report carried by Press TV.

The bloodiest year for French troops was 2011, with the loss of 26 personnel.

More from GlobalPost: France to resume troop training in Afghanistan but pull out by end of 2013

After 2013, Hollande said "only trainers for police and officers of the Afghan Army will remain and this will be done within the framework of," the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF), RTT News reported.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai, also attending the Chicago summit, said he supported the French pullout. 

In a joint news conference with Karzai, Hollande said he had come to tell French troops that "their task has come to an end in Afghanistan," CNN reported.

But he also stressed France's ongoing cooperation with Afghanistan, saying he and Karzai had discussed the detail of their nations' strategic partnership agreement.

Hollande was accompanied to Afghanistan by his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

More from GlobalPost: Two French NATO soldiers gunned down in Afghanistan

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/france/120525/francois-hollande-france-afghanistan-french-military