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Rasmussen in Holland: we'll call next week, please!

Colonel de Larouzière succeeded, on May 7, 2012, Colonel Gouriou at the head of the combined arms tactical group (GTIA) in Kapisa, the BG Steel formed around the 16th battalion of hunters from Bitche taking over from the BG Tiger formed around the hunters Alpine soldiers of the 27th BCA (credit: DICOD / French Ministry of Defence)

(BRUSSELS2) “ I spoke with Hollande on the phone yesterday. I congratulated him and told him of my wish to work closely together when he takes office”. From the outset, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General, made a point of emphasizing this to journalists today (Friday May 11) during his monthly press briefing. This is to clearly show that contact has been established between the military organization and the new French president. Of course, it is the question of the French withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of 2012 that torments everyone's mind. It was addressed “ briefly » he wanted to clarify. But we agreed to continue the “ dialogue, next week, when it will be invested ».

Officially, nothing has changed in the system on site or in the planning for the gradual end of the NATO mission (ISAF), the end of which is set for the year 2014, with transition from 2013. But the secretary general was careful not to condemn the French position or not to prejudge the future. He also indicated that he hoped that the “ Afghans will be able to take over more areas " In the coming months. " They become more efficient and confident in themselves every day. ". A rather ritual phrase from Rasmussen which cannot be translated as a possible change of position but translates a concern on the part of several political leaders: now we must act quickly and not drag on.

The fear of overflow

In fact, what Rasmussen and those responsible for the Alliance fear above all is a runaway effect. Other countries are just as subject to internal and economic pressure, and could therefore seek to follow the French position or choose to leave quickly. It will be all the more untenable for certain governments to maintain their position in the face of public opinion, while severe budget cuts are underway. As a result, the pressure could be strong on the American and British forces, first and foremost, who carry the bulk of the fighting effort on site (respectively 90.000 and 9500 men) but also the German or Italian who form the 3rd and 4th contingent in importance (respectively 4900 and 3800 soldiers (*).

Precedents

In any case, the NATO Secretary General knows well that he will be forced to accept this decision. The electoral campaign is not in fact over, and renouncing or amending today a position which was the key and most visible points of the new foreign policy that F. Hollande intends to pursue would constitute a political error on the part of the new government. . On the French side, we also underline how the commitment of soldiers in a multinational coalition results from a first, and only, national decision. There are important precedents such as the Spanish decision taken after the change of government (Zapatero) to withdraw from the coalition in Iraq. Or the Dutch decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, also taken after a government change (change of majority in the House). Each time, the allies had to bow to such a decision.

The French: 3300 men on site

That said, it is not a question of a complete departure from Afghanistan of all French soldiers. And contrary to what some critics of this position claim, the withdrawal is not a radical policy change. Just an acceleration of the calendar, by a few months in fact…

On the one hand, the deadline of the end of 2012 only concerns the combat forces, in other words those present in Kapisa, and not the support, training or logistics forces. French personnel should therefore still remain on the ground, in particular to ensure the dismantling and repatriation of equipment which could then be spread over 2013. Simply, the replacement planned for the end of the year could not leave, or leave in a different format.

On the other hand, the French withdrawal has already begun. The number of French soldiers on site, according to the latest figures officially communicated by the Alliance, reached 3300 soldiers (compared to 3800 at the start of the year). And several forward combat posts (COP) have already been transferred to the Afghan army: Hassanabat in September 2011, Alasay in February 2012, Shekut (in the Alasay valley) and post 52 in March. All the COPs in the Alasay Valley are held by the Afghan security forces, it is specified to the Armed Forces Headquarters in Paris.

(*) If the Italian contingent has decreased slightly (3950 at the start of the year), the German contingent has increased (4700 people at the start of the year).

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).