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French soldiers in Afghanistan: it's time to go back, says the French PS

(BRUSSELS2) After hesitating for a long time, the Socialist Party has just taken a very clear step forward on French involvement in Afghanistan, believing that the time for withdrawal has come. “The Socialist Party believes that France must revise its policy in Afghanistan. The military presence of France is no longer justified in this country.” writes Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, International Secretary of the Party. And to argue from recent facts “The political, military and security situation continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan. A French soldier was killed today and nine other soldiers were injured. This brings the number of our soldiers dead in Afghanistan to around fifty to date. Eight NATO soldiers were killed this weekend in attacks sometimes carried out by members of the Afghan armed forces. (…) On the political level, nothing demonstrates the will and capacity of the Kabul government to effectively fight corruption and ensure the security of the population. He is also engaged in negotiations with the Taliban against whom NATO forces have been at war for more than ten years.

A subject for the next presidential

The PS therefore took its time to express itself. Certain personalities of the PS have been critical for a long time of this commitment in Afghanistan which has lasted for ten years, such as Paul Quilès, former Minister of Defense under F. Mitterrand (1985-1986) who demanded, already a year ago, the withdrawal of the French contingent. He also told us how exasperated he was by the lack of debate in Europe, in France (read: Paul Quilès: we must open the debate in Europe on the presence in Afghanistan). It is now done, at least for France.

One year before the presidential elections, the withdrawal from Afghanistan will enter, willingly or by force, into the electoral campaign. And all parties will have to position themselves on a subject that is not very popular. The coalition forces have, in fact, planned to initiate a phase of military withdrawal which would begin after the summer of 2011 and end by 2014. But the timetable still remains very vague (read: Afghan forces will take over from NATO in seven areas).

An ideological divide European

We can emphasize that we are slowly moving towards an ideological divide in Europe. The Socialist Party French indeed joins several of its European counterparts (Dutch, Czech, Belgian, Finnish, German, etc.) who have already taken a position or are very openly questioning the continuity of the presence in Afghanistan. Even in the United Kingdom, the debate is getting tougher. Labor is beginning, quite timidly however, to publicly question the need to move on to another phase. “This is the end of the game” thus proclaims, in the New York Times, the former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. It's necessary "negotiate with the Taliban“, the UN must “appoint a mediator (Muslim) for this purpose“. We must move from a military phase by NATO to a political phase under UN control. Otherwise the final withdrawal date, 2014, risk “to be illusory”.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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