Paris: France will pull its 4,000 troops out of Afghanistan on the same staggered timetable as the withdrawal, President Nicolas Sarkozy said Thursday, helping pave the way for drawdowns by other allies.
Sarkozy`s announcement comes just hours after President Barack Obama said the United States planned to begin bringing troops home this summer. France`s withdrawal will take place in coordination with allies and Afghan officials and "in a proportional manner comparable to the withdrawal of American troops," Sarkozy`s office said.
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.
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.
Britain has already said its nearly 10,000 troops will be out by at least 2015 if not a year earlier. About 450 personnel on temporary missions are due out by February.
Plans to pull back reflects in part, the long, costly commitment in lives and money as well as the slow but growing autonomy of Afghanistan security forces. The death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has added to the sense of progress, though fighting continues and the Taliban publicly says it won`t stop until foreign troops leave.
"We can see the tide is turning," NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen said in a statement. "The Taliban are under pressure. The Afghan security forces are getting stronger every day."
NATO and the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, are to gradually move from combat to support roles, he said.
Obama spoke with key allies in Afghanistan, including leaders in Britain, Germany and France.
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 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. French troops are mainly based in the eastern Kapisa province and near Kabul.
Sarkozy, like Obama in the US, 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.
France has had a presence in Afghanistan since 2001 and lost 62 troops there.