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France Follows U.S. Afghan Withdrawal; NATO Welcomes Obama Plan


French soldiers take up positions during an operation in Afghanistan's Uzbin Valley. France has 4,000 troops in Afghanistan.

French soldiers take up positions during an operation in Afghanistan's Uzbin Valley. France has 4,000 troops in Afghanistan.

France has followed in the footsteps of U.S. President Barack Obama's planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, announcing its own troop drawdown.

Obama said on June 22 he would bring home 33,000 troops by September 2012 -- nearly as many as the number sent to Afghanistan for the 2009 "surge" aimed at saving a flailing war effort.

President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement just hours after Obama's announcement that France would start "a progressive pullout of reinforcements sent to Afghanistan, in a proportional way and on a similar timetable to the pullout of the American reinforcements."

France has some 4,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told legislators today that he supported the president's plans, although they are bolder than Mullen originally thought was prudent.

"The president's decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept. More force for more time is, without a doubt, the safer course," Mullen said.

"But that does not necessarily make it the best course. Only the president, in the end, can really determine the acceptable level of risk we must take. I believe he has done so."

NATO: 'Natural Result' Of Progress

At least 68,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after the 33,000 have been withdrawn, but they are scheduled to leave by 2013, provided that Afghan forces are ready to take over security.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country aimed to begin pulling out troops for the first time by year's end.

Germany has some 4,900 troops in a part of northern Afghanistan that has seen increasing fighting in recent years.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed Obama's speech, but the Taliban dismissed it as "symbolic" and vowed to continue fighting until all foreign troops left.

Also, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen have backed U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement of the start of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Gates, who is retiring from his post at the end of this month, said in a statement that the withdrawal plan would provide military commanders in Afghanistan with enough resources, time, and flexibility to move the Afghan mission toward success.

Rasmussen also issued a statement saying that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan was the "natural result" of progress against militants.

Rasmussen said Obama's decision was made in close consultation with NATO allies.

Rasmussen said Taliban forces remained under pressure and Afghan security forces were getting stronger every day, in preparation for Afghans to take the lead in security responsibilities by 2014.

The United States currently has around 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, while more than 40,000 soldiers from other countries have been contributing to a NATO-led security force.

compiled from agency reports
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