French troops to progressively leave Afghanistan

June 23, 2011 - 4:14 AM

PARIS (AP) — President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Thursday the progressive withdrawal of France's troops from Afghanistan — on a timetable matching the U.S. troop pullout that starts this summer.

The withdrawal of France's approximately 4,000 troops will take place in coordination "with our allies and with Afghan authorities," and "in a proportional manner comparable to the withdrawal of American troops," a statement from Sarkozy's office said.

Word of the French plan came on the heels of President Barack Obama's announcement of a staggered U.S. troop withdrawal from the country.

Obama announced an initial drawdown of 10,000 troops in two phases — with 5,000 troops coming home this summer and 5,000 more by the end of the year. An additional 20,000-plus are to follow by September 2012.

With France having a much smaller number of troops in the region than the U.S., the pullbacks would be equally far smaller.

The French statement said Obama called Sarkozy to advise of the American drawdown because of "progress obtained in Afghanistan." Sarkozy shares the American approach, noting successes in the fight against terrorism and the death of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

Sarkozy "confirmed that France will remain fully engaged with its allies at the side of the Afghan people to take the transition process to its end," the statement said.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed Obama's announcement, saying his country shares the goal of reducing the German contingent of 4,900 at the end of this year. However, Germany has not yet settled on details of a pullback.

Sarkozy, like Obama in the U.S., is in election mode ahead of the French presidential vote next year, although he has not formally announced he will try to renew his mandate.

There have been 62 French fatalities in Afghanistan.