Newly elected French President François Hollande will formally announce at this month's NATO summit that he plans to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan in 2012 despite reservations from President Obama and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Britain's Telegraph newspaper is reporting.
Hollande spokesman Manuel Valls said France would use the summit to “announce the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan between now and the end of the year,” the Telegraph reports. France has about 3,400 troops in Afghanistan, the fifth largest contingent.
Hollande, who takes office next week, vowed during the presidential campaign to pull out all French forces in 2012 after four French troops were shot dead by a rogue Afghan soldier.
Delivering on that promise could prove touchy for France's relationship with NATO and the United States. An early withdrawal before 2014 would need to be agreed upon by NATO at the summit, something that seems far from assured.
Obama called Hollande on Sunday to congratulate him and offered to meet with him ahead of the May 20-21 summit. Likely topics include Afghanistan, where Obama last week signed an agreement for residual U.S. forces to stay past 2014.
On Monday NATO announced that Rasmussen plans to speak with Hollande “very soon” about his plans for a withdrawal.
“France as we all know is a staunch ally,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in her opening remarks during Monday's press briefing. “NATO counts on France, and France can count on NATO.”
Ahead of the summit, Lungescu said, there's “agreement that we're sticking to the timetable for transition in Afghanistan. We're sticking to the principle of 'in together, out together.' And we're sticking to our pledge of an enduring commitment to Afghanistan after transition is completed by the end of 2014.”