Eleven years have passed since President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin together decided to commit not only air assets but also ground units in Afghanistan. The objective, with our allies, was to help eradicate the al-Qaeda camps and overthrow the Taliban regime, which was sheltering and supporting that network. France invested substantial resources in a dual mission: to eliminate one of the most dangerous hotbeds of international terrorism and help restore the foundations of Afghanistan’s sovereignty.
At a very early stage, François Hollande has made the assessment that the prolonged presence of French forces, which Nicolas Sarkozy significantly increased in 2008 at the Americans’ request, no longer reflects either the initial missions – even less so after Bin Laden’s death a year ago – or Afghanistan’s situation. With the safe haven destroyed and al-Qaeda leaderless, priority has to be given to civilian and economic reconstruction. Foreign forces have to give way to the Afghan army as soon as possible.
François Hollande made his assessment and his decision clear to the French people during his speech on defence policy on 11 March.
So France announced her intention at the NATO summit in Chicago. French soldiers engaged in combat action within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will be withdrawn between now and the end of 2012. Responsibility for Kapisa will be handed to the Afghan forces, in accordance with President Karzai’s decisions.
Beyond that time, we shall continue to shoulder our responsibilities alongside the Afghan people in cooperation missions. At the military level, this effort will involve training officers and running key infrastructures in Kabul such as the airport and hospital. We shall implement every chapter of the Franco-Afghan Friendship and Cooperation Treaty, which will link our two countries for 20 years.
Today a new era is dawning for Afghanistan. The country is regaining its sovereignty. The goal of having 228,000 Afghan soldiers and police, trained by French and allied trainers, will soon be achieved. In 2013, the Afghan forces will ensure the security of three-quarters of the population.
France will remain committed alongside the Afghan people in a different way. Her role will gradually evolve from one of mainly military assistance to one of mainly civilian assistance. Thanks to the French and allied soldiers’ infallible commitment, this transition is possible. Every one of those who has fought in Afghanistan must know that France is proud of the work accomplished. Eighty-three of our soldiers have lost their lives there and over 700 others have been wounded. France has paid a high price for this commitment in furtherance of her values.
Driven by this conviction, I am organizing the return of our soldiers in an orderly, safe way, and against a background of dialogue and permanent cooperation with our partners. Along with the countries of the region, I am now preparing the conditions of this military disengagement. By holding talks with President Hamid Karzai and visiting his country with President Hollande, I have seen for myself the impact our efforts have made and the value of France and her allies’ mission.
President Hollande’s decision was broadly ratified by the French people. France’s voice was heard, understood and respected. The Chicago summit, contrary to some people’s predictions, demonstrated this to the full./.