French President Francois Hollande for the first time provided details of his plan to pull France's combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, saying Friday he would leave about 1,400 soldiers behind to help with training and logistics.
The new French leader, making good on one of the major foreign-policy promises of his campaign, confirmed during a one-day visit to Afghanistan that all of France's 2,000 combat troops would be brought home by the end of this year, putting France on a fast-track exit timetable that sparked concern among some allies at a NATO summit in Chicago early this week.
Hollande's comments marked the first time that he had put an exact figure on the French troops that will remain after the combat troops leave.
"The time for Afghan sovereignty has come," he said during a meeting with French troops at a base in Kapisa province. "The terrorist threat that targeted our territory, while it hasn't totally disappeared, is in part lessened."
Hollande, who took office last week, said that after more than a decade in Afghanistan, French combat troops had carried out their mission and it was time for them to leave in an early pullout coordinated with the United States and other allies. He said some trainers would remain to help Afghanistan's developing security forces. NATO has set a pullout date of 2014, when Afghan troops are to take over security control.
The French leader met with troops and discussed plans with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to withdraw French combat troops two years ahead of NATO's 2014 pullout schedule. Hollande's visit was not announced ahead of time for security reasons.
France now has 3,400 troops and 150 gendarmes in Afghanistan. Under Hollande's plan, some would stay behind to help send military equipment back to France, and others would help train the Afghan army and police. He did not provide a breakdown for the roles of the 1,400 soldiers who will remain past 2012 or how long they would stay.
Hollande insisted France was not abandoning Afghanistan.
"This is a continuation, and there will be further engagement -- but in a different form," he said, such as in cultural and economic matters. "We want France to have a presence in Afghanistan differently from how it did in the past."
France has troops in the capital Kabul, in the Surobi district and Kapisa province to the east, and at Kandahar air base in the south -- where it has three fighter jets.