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Chicago NATO summit sets stage for Afghan withdrawal

With France set to leave at the end of 2012, and the rest of NATO out by 2014, the question is whether Afghanistan's own forces can meet the challenge.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / May 22, 2012

From left, President Obama, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari talk during a family photo of NATO leaders at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Monday, May 21.

Philippe Wojazer/AP

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So that’s it, then. C'est tout. 

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At the NATO summit in Chicago, newly elected French President François Hollande announced that French "combat troops will be withdrawn at the end of 2012," as his Socialist Party had promised in their presidential campaigns this spring.

“We have done more than our duty and I remind everyone of French losses: 83 men lost their lives, there have been numerous wounded," President Hollande said, according to Radio France International, adding that the calendar for the French withdrawal would be outlined "in the next 10 days."

When the French leave, other NATO members will not be far behind. At the conference, President Obama said that the plan to withdraw 130,000 NATO troops from Afghanistan by 2014 was “irreversible.” Still, it appears up to 20,000 British and US troops will remain behind at Afghan bases such as Bagram, Kandahar, and Jalalabad for some time after 2014.

But Mr. Obama also promised that the US and other foreign allies of the Afghan government would not abandon the country they have supported for the past decade since the toppling of the Taliban government. "As Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone," Obama said, according to the Telegraph.

Parting is never easy. But after a decade of war in Afghanistan, and a four-year-long economic crisis to sort out back home, NATO members are finding it easier to contemplate departure.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s increasing demands for NATO departure certainly have set the stage, although diplomats and security experts have expressed doubts about whether Afghanistan’s army and police forces will be able to keep the peace and secure Afghanistan’s borders after NATO leaves.

At the conference, decked out in a dark grey salwar kameez, President Karzai put a brave face on his country’s future.  

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