French president meets Karzai in Kabul, promises pull-out
French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Tuesday during an unannounced visit and promised France would begin pulling out its forces, DPA reported.
"We are thankful for all the help that France has delivered in the last 10 years," Karzai said, addressing a joint press conference from his fortified palace.
Sarkozy said it was time for his country's military personnel to leave gradually, adding France would continue civilian aid.
"The first part of our forces will leave this country by the end of 2012 with consultations from Afghan and other international allies," Sarkozy told reporters.
Sarkozy said the death of Osama bin Laden and the uprising in some Arab countries meant that Afghanistan was no longer in danger of being taken over by terrorists.
In June, US President Barack Obama announced a 15-month drawdown of 33,000 US troops starting this month. Afghanistan is preparing to take over security from international allies starting this month from seven areas, including Kabul, in a process due to conclude in 2014.
Around 4,000 French soldiers are in Afghanistan along with more than 130,000 international soldiers fighting the Taliban insurgency in a battle that has lasted almost a decade.
Sarkozy said the French army would hand over security responsibility for Kapisa province and Sarobi district in Kabul province.
"We will continue our cooperation in civil affairs, agriculture, education, public health and governance," he said.
"I and President Karzai agreed that as soon as I return to France, I will ask to sign a five-year cooperation agreement between the two countries."
The visit was Sarkozy's third to the country since he became president in 2007. He also offered his condolences to Karzai, whose brother was shot dead a few hours before the meeting.
Various media reported that during a visit to troops in Sarobi district outside Kabul Sarkozy said France would pull out 1,000 troops from its mission by the end of 2012.