NATO Summit: Press briefing by President Hollande
Q. – Your decision on the withdrawal from Afghanistan was finally respected, with no great resistance from the allies. You said yesterday that there could have been misunderstandings; that wasn’t the case. How do you explain that?
THE PRESIDENT – France’s decision is part of a process. There must be no more Alliance combat troops in Afghanistan in 2014. We’ve speeded up the process. Because we reached an agreement with the Afghan army, which is going to replace our troops in Kapisa at the end of the year, everyone understood clearly that we could withdraw our troops without weakening the operation’s security and ensure that Afghans can regain their sovereignty more quickly than expected.
Q. – In the past, you’ve expressed reservations about France’s return to the NATO command. In the end, you’ve seemed very much at home in this Atlantic boat in recent days. Aren’t you, in a way, following in your predecessor’s footsteps in that respect?
THE PRESIDENT – When my predecessor took the decision in 2008, I set a condition for France’s return into the integrated military command – namely, that there should be progress on Defence Europe. I readily admit there hasn’t been any progress on this for several months, but European defence is explicitly mentioned in the Chicago summit’s final communiqué. I regard this as a development, and over the coming months I’ll ensure Defence Europe can be strengthened in the framework of the Alliance and therefore of NATO. I’ll also ask for an assessment in the coming months of our role and of what Defence Europe can be.
Q. – Do you feel the Afghan forces will be up to the task? Do you get the impression France is leaving with a feeling of “mission accomplished”? After all, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are still there.
THE PRESIDENT – The Afghan army today controls a little over half its territory. That’s been confirmed to us once again. At the end of the year – and we’ll contribute to it – the Afghan army will have 75% of its territory under its own control. A few areas will still remain, which is also why forces other than ours will be able to continue working for Afghanistan’s security. We will have withdrawn our troops from the Kapisa area, where the Afghan army will have regained control, by the end of the year. It’ll then be the Afghan army’s responsibility, after 2014, to ensure that the missions entrusted to it – and therefore control of its territory – are properly carried out. In order to achieve this, a number of countries will contribute to supporting the Afghan army: I mean contribute financially. But it’ll be up to the Afghans themselves to settle this issue of their sovereignty. That’s why, this morning, I talked about the necessary political process, political dialogue, political reconciliation in Afghanistan, and this won’t be easy; but that’s up to the Afghans. If there’s no political reconciliation, if there’s no political dialogue, if there are no transparent, free, democratic elections in 2014, it’s true it’ll be more difficult. But at some point countries themselves must take charge of their own future, not allies, however benevolent they may be.
Q. – Did you give the allies any details this morning of the number of French soldiers who will be staying on after 2012 to ensure the equipment is protected? Did you commit to a number of contingents and trainers who will stay in Afghanistan after 2014?
THE PRESIDENT – No, I didn’t commit to a number. I merely set out two principles. The first was the withdrawal of all French combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, and I assure you this commitment will be strictly honoured. Secondly, military units will remain in Afghanistan to cover training duties – limited, by the way – both for the police and Afghan army officers. This was also envisaged in the friendship treaty signed between my predecessor and President Karzai. But no figures are mentioned.
Q. – What about Syria?
THE PRESIDENT – I had a lengthy meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, because he wanted to share with me his concern, not only about Syria, because Kofi Annan’s mission is going to continue under difficult security conditions, but also about Lebanon, because there’s been a certain amount of violence in Lebanon. As you know, we have French forces in Lebanon, in UNIFIL, so I expressed legitimate concern about their security [and said] how necessary their presence is. I’ll be sure to follow closely what happens in Lebanon. Lebanon mustn’t be destabilized by what’s happening in Syria.
Q. – On the situation in Mali, are you worried by the latest events?
THE PRESIDENT – I heard during the summit that there had been unrest in Mali again. Interim President Traoré was reportedly injured. I repeat that the process ECOWAS called for must be continued and the legitimate authorities respected. France will follow what’s going on in Mali very closely. More generally, the Sahel region is a great source of concern. I told the G8 this, because these strike me as challenges for global security, and the news from Mali raises fresh questions. France will pay close attention to what happens not only in Mali but also in Niger and Mauritania – i.e. in the whole Sahel region. It’s true Mali has been destabilized. We can’t tolerate an attack on the interim President. Thank you.