French president says Afghan mission changing

July 12, 2011 - 7:14 AM
Afghanistan France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy observes a minute of silence to honor French soldiers killed in Afghanistan as he visits French troops at the 152nd Infantry Regiment military base in Tora in the region of Surobi, Tuesday, July 12, 2011. Sarkozy is in Afghanistan to meet with some of the 4,000 troops France has deployed to the country and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that his country will maintain a steady pace to the drawdown of its 4,000 troops in Afghanistan with the goal of transitioning to a civilian mission by 2014.

Sarkozy said the death of Osama bin Laden and the rising tide of democracy in the Arab world mean that Afghanistan is no longer in danger of being overtaken by terrorists.

"We are at a moment that is very important for the future of Afghanistan," Sarkozy said, explaining that it is time for the Afghan government to make good on pledges to take over responsibility for security.

The task is a difficult one for a country where suicide bombings and targeted killings of government officials are common.

Sarkozy spoke to reporters alongside his host, President Hamid Karzai, less than an hour after news broke that the Afghan president's half brother had been assassinated.

The French leader started out his remarks by offering condolences to his Afghan counterpart.

He also visited French troops serving in Afghanistan, and told them their country is proud of the work they have done. Sarkozy said the French will continue a measured drawdown of troops as they increase their civilian efforts in areas including agriculture, health and governance programs.

The French government has said that about a fourth of its troops will be out of Afghanistan by the summer of 2012. Sarkozy said French troops in the Surobi area on the outskirts of Kabul will be the first to leave.

Most of the French troops are in the eastern Kapisa province where two French journalists were kidnapped in December 2009 and held by the Taliban for 18 months. They were freed late last month along with their Afghan translator.