What the French elections could mean for Afghan security
Newly elected French President François Hollande pledged to withdraw French troops by end of 2012. This will increase the burden on other NATO allies as Taliban fighting season begins.
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The very fact that France had troops in Afghanistan is due largely to the efforts of France’s departing President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the most America-friendly presidents since World War II. Mr. Sarkozy chose in 2009 to reintegrate French troops into NATO after a decades-long absence, and promptly urged their use both in Afghanistan and also during the NATO air campaign against Muammar Qaddafi’s forces in Libya last year.Skip to next paragraph
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Sarkozy also signaled a rupture with France’s past policy of interventionism among its former colonies in Africa, although that promise lasted about as long as a day-old croissant. French troops intervened in Ivory Coast in early 2011 to help capture incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo after he refused to step down from power after losing the Nov. 2010 elections to Alessane Ouattara.
While the French public never did particularly warm to the notion of French troops in Afghanistan, the Monitor’s Robert Marquand reported in April 2011 that French public opinion seemed to be in support of operations in Libya and Ivory Coast, two countries France has typically kept within its sphere of influence.
The election of Hollande, by all accounts, has more to do with public discontent over Sarkozy’s handling of the sluggish economy than it does with French foreign policy. But withdrawal from Afghanistan is popular. Even Sarkozy himself, during a January 2012 visit to Kabul, suggested that France would push NATO to hand over combat operations to Afghan control in 2013.
“We have decided in a common accord with President Karzai to ask NATO to consider a total handing of NATO combat missions to the Afghan Army over the course of 2013,” Sarkozy said, adding that France itself would withdraw its troops by the end of 2013.
There may not seem to be a great deal of distance between Sarkozy’s end-of-2013 withdrawal and Hollande’s campaign promise of withdrawal within the next seven months. But French elections may be an indication of a more general disengagement from joint military operations, increasing the burden on the remaining NATO allies there.
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