France is leaving Afghanistan. Though President Obama has committed to reducing America’s footprint in Afghanistan beginning July 2011, the withdrawal of another ally is likely to add an additional layer of challenge to maneuver that reduction. And the timing of the announcement has put France’s decision under some scrutiny.
France’s announcement came a day after the release of a tape with a message believed to be from Osama Bin Laden, who threatened to attack French citizens because of their presence in Afghanistan and treatment of Muslims. French officials were quick to insist that there is “absolutely no link” between the threat and their decision to begin withdrawing troops in 2011.
"There's a fixed date for NATO in the framework of its new strategy, that's the start of 2011, because in 2011 we're going to transfer a whole series of districts to the Afghans,” said France’s Defense Minister Herve Morin in an article by Agence France-Presse. “At that moment, there could be the first movements or first withdrawals of Allied forces from Afghanistan. In any case, that's the calendar set by Barack Obama, that in 2011 the first American troops could quit Afghanistan.”
There are approximately 3,500 French troops in Afghanistan, stationed mostly to the east of Kabul. France has had soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001 and 50 of those soldiers have died over the course of the nine-year war. France has previously indicated that it would not send additional troops to Afghanistan.
French officials have yet to confirm the authenticity of the tape, in which the Al Qaeda leader threatens to kill and kidnap more French citizens as a result of their involvement in what Mr. bin Laden calls an unjust war.
This is the first time that Al Qadea has specifically addressed France in any of its messages, said terrorism expert Mathieu Guidere in an interview with France 24. Bin Laden also mentioned France’s recent burqa ban in the tape.
Despite the timing, French officials insist that there is no connection between their decision and the release of the new bin Laden tape, reports Deutsche Welle. They say that France is merely moving ahead with NATO’s overall Afghan strategy.
“Radical Islamist movements always invoke our presence in Afghanistan; it is a frequent demand,” said Mr. Morin.
France has joined both the Netherlands and Canada in recent announcements of pullouts from Afghanistan.