Paris – On the same day Francois Hollande was sworn into office, news leaked that he is backtracking on his campaign promise to pull all French troops out of Afghanistan this year.
The news comes ahead of the French socialist’s scheduled meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday. Hollande’s pull-out pledge was one of the few foreign policy proposals he made during his recent campaign.
Hollande’s promise represented a clear-cut difference with the Obama administration, however now, Hollande, who has little foreign policy experience, says only French “combatant troops” will be pulled out by year’s end, according to a Washington Post article.
Further muddying Hollande’s foreign policy flap, French officials have not defined what constitutes combat troops among the 3,400 French military personnel deployed in Afghanistan.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s schedule called for French troops to withdraw in 2013, about a year ahead of most NATO International Security Assistance Forces. The U.S. represents the largest fighting force in Afghanistan and NATO’s withdrawal, signaled by Obama, calls for a staged pullout through 2014. Analysts say Hollande changed his pledge to fall more in line with the U.S. president prior to their first face-to-face meeting.
A number of governments in the 40-nation Afghanistan coalition force are facing increasing opposition to the Afghanistan War because there is no clear path to victory in sight. Constituents are growing evermore restless as death tolls mount amid turmoil and political backstabbing in Afghanistan. President Obama nearly tripled American troop strength in his first two years as President and other nations followed suit. However, the war is not going well despite such mission creep and Americans are comparing it to the Vietnam War. NATO’s withdrawal schedule was decided in November 2010 at a NATO summit in Lisbon.
A new French timetable will likely be discussed when Hollande meets President Obama for breakfast Friday morning at the White House, according to Hollande’s aides. Instead of discussing victory in the decade-old war, the two presidents will more likely discuss withdrawal dates from Afghanistan. The pair will have another opportunity do so at the Group of Eight summit at Camp David on Friday and Saturday and at the NATO gathering scheduled for Sunday and Monday.
The assassination of four French trainers by an Afghan recruit on Jan. 20 led Hollande’s predecessor, Sarkozy, to decide on an early pullout. Hollande, who campaigned on an even earlier pullout, risks alienating French anti-war supporters by reneging on his pledge to withdraw all French troops by the end of this year.