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Visit to Afghanistan of President Sarkozy

Visit to Afghanistan of President Sarkozy

Published on July 15, 2011
Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, to the French forces deployed in Surobi

Tora military base, 12 July 2011
President Sarkozy addresses French soldiers at the Tora military base.
(photo Reuters - P. Wojazer)

Officers, NCOs and soldiers of Task Force La Fayette, and especially of Combined Arms Battle Group Surobi,

It’s an honour for the Head of the Armed Forces to be here today in Afghanistan, on Forward Operating Base Tora in Surobi District.

On the eve of our National Day, I wanted to express to you personally the recognition and admiration of the French for your action and, through you, to convey this to all the soldiers of Operation Pamir. The nation is proud of what you are doing here, for France and in France’s name.

TRIBUTES TO FALLEN AND WOUNDED SOLDIERS

My thoughts go first to Lance Corporal Cyrille Hugodot of the 1st Parachute Infantry Battalion, killed in action on 25 June this year and Lance Sergeant Clément Kovac of the 1st Armoured Regiment, who died yesterday.

Nor have I forgotten that near here, in Uzbin valley, in August 2008, ten of your comrades fell together. So I have come to share with our forces this grave and difficult moment. Uzbin revealed to all the French the violence you can encounter at any time.

All your comrades killed in action in the past 10 years went beyond the call of duty.

I want to remember their sacrifice. 64 have been killed in action in Afghanistan since 2001. They died doing their duty, serving peace and the battle against terrorism and barbarity. With us, the whole nation remembers them.

In their memory, let us together observe a minute’s silence.

[Minute’s silence]

I extend again my condolences to the bereaved and to you all, their comrades in arms.

I’m thinking too of those – there are so many – who have been wounded. I know with what courage and strength of character they are waging a new battle to overcome the pain, and undergoing what is sometimes lengthy rehabilitation. I thank them for going so far beyond the call of duty and wish them a speedy recovery.

Some will be physically scarred for life. We must do all we can for them. I know that all our armed forces structures are making every effort to help them. It’s at these times that mutual aid and comradeship in arms truly come into their own. You can feel proud of this.

I want to remind the whole nation of the fortitude and strength of character which every one of you needs to go back immediately into combat after seeing a comrade die or get injured at your side. Your spirit of sacrifice, your courage and your determination to fulfil your mission do you great credit.

HOSTAGES’ RELEASE

I congratulate you too on your resolute action to assist the release of our hostages. You played a discreet but essential part in ensuring our journalists’ safety and then in the happy outcome of 28 June. I include in this tribute your secret service comrades and embassy personnel. Over these past 18 months you have gone on risking your lives; 27 of your comrades have been killed and 230 wounded.

AFGHANISTAN MISSION

Soldiers,

Your mission in Afghanistan is important for world peace and security.

Back in the 1980s, not just civilians but also French soldiers came here, to help Commander Massoud against the Soviet invader.

2001 saw the 11 September terrorist attacks. President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin took a strong and just decision: France had to commit herself and act. It was our duty to help the Afghan people and act in the name of our values. It was also in the interest of France, threatened as much as the United States, to drive away al-Qaeda and its Taliban support in power in Kabul.

In 2008, I decided to send reinforcements. We were then responsible for securing the Kabul region. But before taking this decision, I asked our allies to define a new strategy, based on transferring responsibilities to the Afghans. We adopted this strategy at the NATO summit in Bucharest. After transferring Kabul to the Afghans, I wanted France to take on a new autonomous responsibility in a coherent and strategically important zone. That’s why we came to Kapisa in 2009, with increased assets and civilian programmes.

In September 2009, with Germany and the United Kingdom – who are deployed in the North and South –, we proposed extending the transfer to the whole country. In 2010, with the Afghans and our allies, we took the decision to launch this transition process. Progressively, between now and 2014, the Afghans will take on the responsibility for their security. They will do so thanks to the armed forces and police we are training.

Concurrently, France is supporting the Afghan efforts to achieve national reconciliation, since you have to know how to end a war and overcome the past. It’s a demanding path. It’s legitimate to embark on it once those who have fought against the new institutions have accepted the Afghan Constitution, renounced violence and cut all links with terrorism. Osama Bin Laden’s death makes reconciliation possible.

By taking on this mission, with our allies and the Afghan forces, you, French soldiers, are preventing the terrorists from using this country as a base for attacks.

You are preventing them from destabilizing the whole region and threatening Europe’s security.

You are defending universal humanist values. You are being true to the spirit of those who were here in the 1980s, alongside the Afghans.

You are making France worthy of her history and her responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

You are strengthening France’s alliances by fighting with your Coalition comrades from the United States and 47 other countries in the world.

Soldiers,

Since mid-May, you have been serving under General Emmanuel Maurin. For you and your commander, a new phase of our action is going to start, with the progressive transfer of responsibilities to the Afghans.

Your action in Surobi has achieved some outstanding results.

Since our reinforcements arrived in 2009, I have ensured that Task Force La Fayette has all the resources it needs for its missions: special forces, tactical UAVs and listening, fire support and demining capabilities.

As Head of the Armed Forces, I am proud that all our allies have the highest regard for Task Force La Fayette’s action.

The four brigades which succeeded each other in Kapisa and Surobi have demonstrated the effectiveness of our know-how, a specific approach, which I make so bold as to describe as “French”.

You deploy in the villages as close as possible to the people you are tasked with protecting. You have acquired a remarkable knowledge of the terrain, house by house, family by family.

You show great respect for the inhabitants and their culture while doing your job as a soldier. You avoid civilian losses, in accordance with my instructions.

This rare combination of military and human qualities is a credit to France and her Armed Forces. I congratulate you on it.

Your action is also allowing your comrades from the 3rd Afghan Army Brigade, commanded by General Nazar, to give of their best. They already control the axis from Kabul to the Pakistani border. I want to pay special tribute to your Afghan comrades, who are soon going to take over.

The transition will be possible thanks to the military personnel and police officers who are training and mentoring Afghan army units. I’m thinking of the Epidot Detachment, the teams deployed with the Afghan battalions. All our soldiers are carrying out their missions with due regard for their Afghan partners, so that they become professional soldiers or police officers serving their country.

In my thoughts too are our gendarmes deployed in Mazar-e-Sharif and Wardak under very precarious conditions, constantly threatened by rockets.

Alongside the soldiers, we’ve got diplomats and civilian experts working for the development of Kapisa and Surobi. Thanks to them, we’re seeing projects get off the ground which are going to improve people’s lives and ensure we deliver long-term benefits: electrification of the valley, road asphalting, school building, teacher training, renovation of two hospitals and help for farmers.

We wouldn’t be able to do all this without the support of the Afghan civil authorities, including the Governor of Kapisa, Mehrabuddin Safi. He’s a man whose courage is known to all.

After almost three years of French presence, there’s a real improvement in the situation in Surobi. I wanted to see the situation for myself. And I’m proud of the work accomplished. In Kapisa too, important progress has been recorded. It must be consolidated and this is why, when the transition has been completed in Surobi, our remaining troops will be concentrated in Kapisa.

TROOP WITHDRAWALS

Soldiers,

Osama Bin Laden is dead. The terrorists are seriously weakened. In the rest of Afghanistan, our allies have made progress with respect both to the military situation and training of the Afghan forces. It’s still fragile. But it’s enough for the United States to have announced the return of the extra 33,000 troops President Obama ordered to Afghanistan in 2009, i.e. a quarter of the total number of US troops. Other allies have taken comparable decisions. France is going to join in the movement.

As far as France is concerned, we will pull out a quarter of our total troops between now and the end of 2012, i.e. 1,000 troops. Our remaining troops will be concentrated in Kapisa.

Depending on developments in the situation on the ground, this withdrawal will be the subject of consultations with both the Afghan authorities and our allies. I’m shortly going to have meetings with President Karzai and General Petraeus.

The objective we share with the Afghans and our allies is a withdrawal of all combat forces, at the end of the transition process, scheduled for 2014. The Afghan authorities will then be fully responsible for their country. All the region’s countries will have to make a clear commitment to respect Afghanistan’s independence and sovereignty.

Beyond 2014, we’re going to adopt a different course of action, but with our allies we will remain committed alongside the Afghan people, with more civil cooperation and continuation of our training of the Afghan forces. If the people of Kapisa and Surobi so wish, we will pursue the economic and social projects set in train. Long-term agreements must be concluded between the European Union, NATO and Afghanistan.

For France, there’s never been any question of keeping troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. But we owe it to our Afghan friends, our soldiers killed in action and the wounded, and to their families to leave only once the mission has been accomplished. We’ve made a lot of progress. We need to take this on board. But our mission isn’t over.

I know I can count on each and every one of you to see it through. You will do so with that same selflessness and that same courage which make the French soldier great and so valuable.

OTHER EXTERNAL OPERATIONS/COTE D’IVOIRE/LIBYA/SOMALI PIRATES/LEBANON/KOSOVO

Soldiers,

French armed forces are also engaged in many other theatres of operation in the world.

In today’s world, France’s security is no longer being defended only at our borders. Your presence here shows this.

In this ever-shifting world, it would be illusory to believe that the only goal of foreign military deployment was to guarantee stability for the sake of stability. That would mean certain failure. France’s military commitments have to keep pace with global changes.

We will always act strictly in accordance with international law.

We will defend our country and our allies when we are threatened.

We will protect the peoples threatened by their own leaders when they call for freedom and justice.

We will never seek to maintain a military presence which isn’t wanted or based on international law. And as soon as a mission has been accomplished or lost its raison d’être, our soldiers will go home.

Soldiers,

It’s my responsibility as Head of the Armed Forces to give you clear strategic objectives.

It’s the government’s responsibility to give you the means to achieve them.

It’s your command’s duty to lead you to success.

And it’s an honour for you to serve and defend France and her ideals.

Everywhere, our soldiers are a credit to our country. Everywhere their action arouses admiration.

In Côte d’Ivoire, they protected the people, saved thousands of lives and made it possible to uphold the Ivorian people’s choice in the presidential election, as requested by the African Union and UN.

In Libya, they are defending a whole people against the atrocities of a criminal regime which threatened to make “rivers of blood” flow in Benghazi. A regime relentlessly shelling the people of Misrata. A regime which wants to deprive a whole people of their most elementary rights.

In Côte d’Ivoire as in Libya, at the Security Council’s request and with our allies, we have for the first time shouldered the “responsibility to protect” which the UN has unanimously adopted as its new principle for action.

Off the coast of Somalia, our Navy is ensuring the freedom of the seas against pirates. In Lebanon and in Kosovo, French soldiers are keeping the peace.

All honour to you, soldiers of the Republic and democracy. The nation is proud of you.

Long live the Republic!

Long live France!

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