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The withdrawal schedule specified by G. Longuet. The real questions are being asked...

(BRUSSELS2 at NATO headquarters) Listening to Gérard Longuet, the French Minister of Defence, one wonders whether the right questions have been asked, and resolved, so far, particularly during the Lisbon summit, on the commitment internationally in Afghanistan. Whether at the level of the format of the Afghan army, its objective, its financing or the timetable for withdrawal, the debate seems to be open rather than closed. The casual discussion between the Minister and a few journalists, including B2, at the end of this first working session of the Atlantic Alliance devoted to Afghanistan, is quite enlightening. Excerpts from the interview...

No criticism of the French choice

The French choice of early withdrawal does not seem to have been criticized by its partners. At least not in session and publicly, it's not the kind of house. " One can hardly criticize a country which is the 4e contributor and who wonders because his soldiers are paying with their lives for tactical choices or shortcomings. » dropped the Minister. " I explained France's position, I think I was well understood by the Secretary General. The ministers remembered what I said (during bilateral talks, half a dozen led by the Minister), even if they did not speak in their speech. (...) Everyone thinks in his corner because he has the same problem. » Finally (…) The discussion forced our partners to take into account our commitment.

The withdrawal schedule, specified

The Minister first specified the figures on the withdrawal, outlined by the President of the Republic a few days ago. " France has 3600 men on site - 2400 engaged in combat actions, and 1200 in supervision, logistics and support in Kabul. 1000 men - fighters will be withdrawn in 2012. The 1400 who will remain engaged will be in support of the Afghan army and will leave in 2013. There will remain 1200 in Kabul, a figure that will gradually decrease. (...) After 2014, 400-500 will remain. »

A transition process in Kapisa

“Ensuring the transition. VSIt doesn't happen overnight. VSIt's not like changing tenants. It takes time,” said the Minister. In "March 2012 is the beginning of the transfer to Kapisa", this is not the end of the transfer. This one will be finished “in the summer of 2013. It takes more than a year”. And during this process, there remain combatant soldiers, and armed. « There is no question of leaving, for example, medical and medical evacuation units with the Afghans without having protection units. We are withdrawing under conditions where every French soldier must be defended. »

The mandate is accomplished: the objective is not Switzerland

« The mandate (given to the ISAF) was not to transform Afghanistan into a Switzerland. The mandate was to take out the terrorists - it's done - and to allow the State to provide an army capable of resisting various offensives coming from Taliban or other networks - the mission is on the way to being successful. Take the example of the Kapisa. Two years ago, there were two battalions of 2 men, scruffy and untrained. Today we have 640 men trained, equipped, receiving their pay and who are on the front line. He also clarified that he " takes a good year to make a withdrawal. The battle of dates therefore does not really make sense. (...) It's like when you learn to swim, you deflate the buoy little by little”. 

The number of Afghan forces, a bit exaggerated!

The important thing is the transition with the Afghan army, which takes approximately between 6 months and 1 year (or even 18 months according to NATO), ranging from "lead" responsibility to "full" responsibility for the " premises". First of all, according to the Minister you have to ask the right questions: how much to recruit, what quantitative and qualitative objectives... "You have to know" what good format is needed for the Afghan army ». Starting with the number. " What is the point of recruiting 5.000 soldiers per month if in two years we reduce the number of soldiers? (except to do DDR, disarmament, demobilization, reintegration may mock some). What are these 100.000 police and soldiers going to do? (...) The figure of 352.000 men for the security forces is a bit exaggerated. 230.000 would be more reasonable, especially when compared to Najibullah's army which had 170.000. » « Isn't it better not to do quality. (In this case,) we need to recruit better “, specifies the Minister. And in particular, we must improve selection and screening.

What Karzai wants, a classic army

The concern of the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai - according to the Minister - is to have " an army worthy of Afghanistan ". That is to say, an army which is not a counter-insurgency army (NB: as presented by the Allies) but rather as an army of an independent state asserting its sovereignty. "" A smaller army seems acceptable for the Afghan leader. " But you have to be aware - he specifies - that Karzai needs a classic army. You have to train tank drivers, special forces. That's what they ask us. (...) This is a very clearly open debate and will be decided in Chicago. »

The future cost: sufficient and sustainable

Don't get the format wrong. Because this national army has a certain cost, at the very least " $4 billion » according to the Minister quoting the figure retained by the group of contributors. A higher figure circulates on the American side ($6 billion) or the British side ($7-8 billion). " What must be taken into account is that the effort must be sufficient and sustainablee. Admittedly, this is proportionally less than the combined costs of the commitments of each State participating in the coalition (400 to 450 million euros per year for France) but it is a sum given to Afghanistan, in " hoping that the resources of the country will take over”.

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(Updated on Friday with other clarifications provided by G. Longuet during his press conference and a clarification on the withdrawal dates, rather confused in the first version)

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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