French President Francois Hollande said he plans to pull all of his country’s 2,000 combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, but that France will continue to support the war-torn country.
During an unannounced visit to Afghanistan Friday, Hollande said some 1,300 other troops will remain in the country in a support role, training Afghan security forces and looking after equipment.
The newly-elected French leader said the early withdrawal will be conducted in close coordination with the Afghan government and NATO allies.
Hollande made his remarks after meeting in Kabul, Friday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In a joint news conference, Hollande said France would still have a presence in Afghanistan, but a different role than in the past — focusing instead on the civilian front.
Earlier in the day, Hollande met with French troops stationed at a military base in the Nijrab district of eastern Kapisa province. He thanked the troops for their service and said any withdrawal would be closely coordinated with NATO allies.
During his presidential campaign, Hollande pledged to pull French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2013, a year earlier than his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy had planned.
France has some 3,300 troops in Afghanistan. Eighty-three French troops have been killed in the country since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
All foreign combat forces are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Hollande arrived in Kabul accompanied by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Meanwhile, bomb blasts in three southern Afghan provinces Friday killed three people and wounded nine.