Q. – How many French soldiers, how many French will remain in Afghanistan on 1 January next year, once the combat troops have been withdrawn?
THE MINISTER – Between now and 31 December we’re going to be withdrawing at least 2,000 troops – they are, indeed, the combat units – as we committed ourselves to doing. Staying behind will be troops required to protect the convoys of equipment we’ll have to send back, since this takes a bit longer.
These troops will be repatriated in the course of 2013, so the bulk of our forces and all the combat forces will be back by 31 December but, of course, we have to protect those who are going to be bringing back the equipment.
Q. – What will those who are staying on a bit – i.e. a good 1,000 troops – be doing? Are they going to remain with the Afghan soldiers? And if so, what will they be doing?
THE MINISTER – No, they’re staying to oversee the return of equipment because it’s a very tough operation. Security has to be ensured, of course, and then they’ll go home. Those staying on with the soldiers will be there solely to train [Afghan] police units and trainers, but there’ll be no more combat units and obviously there’ll be far fewer troops than there are now.
At the same time, we’ll be developing our civilian cooperation programme in sectors where it’s very important – for example, health. A tremendous job is being done, which can be broadened to include hospitals. There are, for example, many things to be done when it comes to education, agriculture and economic development.
So what President Hollande explained this morning directly to the soldiers, the French community and President Karzai was that we are withdrawing our combat units, we ourselves committed to doing this, but we aren’t abandoning Afghanistan. Our cooperation, particularly civilian cooperation, is even going to be stepped up, since a treaty was signed at the beginning of the year and we’re going to ratify it after the general election. This treaty is for the next 20 years. (…)./.