France's Afghanistan exit a blow to Nato

2012-01-31 08:41
Washington - France's decision to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan a year earlier than planned deals a blow to the US-led war effort and threatens to trigger a "rush to the exits" by other Nato members, experts said on Monday.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's surprise announcement to pull out his country's forces in 2013 "upends a well-planned, well laid-out Nato strategy of transition in Afghanistan going through 2014", said Damon Wilson, executive vice president of the Atlantic Council and former White House official.

At a meeting of defence ministers this week in Brussels, an anxious United States will be engaging in a round of "damage control" to shore up the alliance's agreed upon timeline, Wilson told reporters.

"You're going to look for the US trying to have as many defence ministers to their press conferences, restating their commitment to the Nato strategy" for a 2014 withdrawal, he told an event organised by the Atlantic Council think tank.

Days after the killing of four French troops by a renegade Afghan soldier, Sarkozy said France's combat forces would leave in 2013 and called on other Nato states to shift to an earlier timetable.

Sarkozy's abrupt change in course last week represents a "stunning" unilateral move that poses "a real challenge to Nato leadership and [President Barack] Obama's leadership," said Ian Brzezinski, a former Pentagon official under George W Bush's presidency.


Sarkozy had done much to repair France's ties with Washington and Nato in the wake of a bitter falling out over the Iraq war, winning praise for his stance on Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear programme and his leading role in the Nato-led air war in Libya.

But the decision to speed up the French military withdrawal from Afghanistan despite a Nato consensus is seen as a betrayal in Washington and London and will damage Paris's credibility in the alliance, analysts and former officials said.

"One of Sarkozy's most prominent achievements has been to rehabilitate France's reputation in London and in Washington, that France can be a trusted ally, that it's taking its place within Nato," said Jeffrey Lightfoot, deputy director of Atlantic Council's International Security Programme.

For the Taliban insurgency, France's early exit is "a smashing propaganda victory" that encourages targeting European troops to damage a "fragile political consensus" within the coalition, Lightfoot said.

The right-leaning Wall Street Journal portrayed Sarkozy as bowing to domestic political expediency, but argued the Obama administration had opened the door for a mass exodus by setting a withdrawal deadline in the first place.

"Still, it would be unfair to lay too much blame on Mr Sarkozy, who is only trying to get ahead of the coming stampede for the exits," the Journal wrote in an editorial.

Partners' reaction

"That was bound to happen the moment President Obama announced a timetable for the surge and a date-certain for withdrawal, thereby giving the Taliban hope that they could bide their time while giving America's coalition partners no good reason to stay."

The pace of the French troop drawdown will play a crucial role in how other coalition partners react, Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, said.

"The key thing for me is how fast France downsizes in 2013, which is shaping up as a crucial year. If most of the current forces stay through 2013, I think it's not a huge problem," he said.

But if the bulk of 3 600-strong French contingent withdraws next year, Nato's scheduled 2014 drawdown could unravel, he said.

Read more on:    nicolas sarkozy  |  barack obama  |  france  |  us  |  afghanistan  |  war

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.