French election throws Afghan exit into disarray

François Hollande's promise to withdraw troops this year means Nato allies may have to fill the gap

The critical timetable for the withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan will come under major strain if Nicolas Sarkozy loses the presidency in the French elections, with his socialist opponent warning that his country's forces will be pulled out within seven months if he gets into power.

François Hollande's defence spokesman, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is a possible choice for defence minister, told British officials in no uncertain terms during a visit last week that French troops would end their combat mission a full two years before the UK and US are scheduled to do so in 2014.

The latest polls suggest Mr Sarkozy and Mr Hollande are tied in the first round of voting, due to be held on 22 April. But Mr Hollande is the frontrunner for the all-important run-off on 6 May, which would leave France with its first Socialist president in almost two decades.

Nato commanders and the Afghan government could then be faced with hastily drawing up plans to replace the 3,600-strong French contingent based in an area which has seen a steady rise in the scale of insurgent attacks.

Nato's exit planning had already been affected by Mr Sarkozy's announcement that he would bring forces home by the end of 2013, a year before schedule, after an Afghan soldier killed four French soldiers and injured 15 others in January. Grave doubts at the time about the ability of Afghan forces to replace the French by the end of next year led to contingency plans for coalition forces to fill the gap.

Bringing the deadline forward by a further 12 months at a difficult time, with increased tension between President Hamid Karzai and his Western sponsors, would result in significant added problems, according to British and US officials. A rapid deterioration in security would mean that other forces, almost certainly American, would have to move into the area now under French military jurisdiction – centred in Kapisa in northern Afghanistan – from the south of the country. This could, in turn, mean British troops having to replace Americans in parts of Helmand, although senior UK officers stress that this has not been proposed at this stage.

Mr Le Drian declared during his London visit that full consultations would take place with Western allies about the French withdrawal, but he was adamant that Mr Hollande's campaign promise could not be changed.

A summit in Chicago next month is supposed to lay out the blueprint for transition to Afghan control of security and the future commitment to Afghanistan by the international community. The French elections, however, will take place just before that meeting and Nato planners remain uncertain about the stance which will be taken by Paris.

Mr Le Drian said he understood the difficulties which would arise in Chicago, but a Hollande government would not be willing to make any commitment until it got into office.

* A British soldier has died from injuries suffered in an explosion in Afghanistan more than two months ago. The serviceman from The Queen's Royal Hussars (The Queen's Own and Royal Irish) was surrounded by his family at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. The number of UK troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001 stands at 408.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Sport
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
i100
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam