LYON – French President François Hollande made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Friday.

Journalists were told on his return that the trip was meant to confirm his intention to withdraw all French troops from the country by the end of 2012, as he had stated in the United States a week earlier.

His eight-hour visit started in the Kapisa Valley, the area protected by the French military.

Speaking with French soldiers he confirmed their departure before the date previously agreed upon.

“Only France can justify France,” he said, insisting that the withdrawal will take place “with the full knowledge of our allies.”

Hollande outlined the move to US President Barack Obama in Washington on May 18, and then to the G8 at Camp David and at the NATO summit in Chicago.

This withdrawal had been pledged in his election platform and concerns 2,000 of the 3,500-strong French contingent.

The military personnel remaining will have to bring back thousands of tons of military equipment, as well as continue to train the Afghan Army.

He promised, over lunch in the residence of the Afghan president in Kabul, that the French presence will carry on but in a “different” manner, and will deal with aspects such as “civil and economic matters to help the Afghans to become self-sufficient.”

The Western alliance entered in Afghanistan began in 2001. The objectives were to drive the Taliban from power and to pursue al-Qaida, which masterminded 9/11.

Some 130,000 foreign soldiers are in the country: 90,000 Americans, 9,500 Britons, 4,500 Germans, 3,800 Italians, 3,500 French and smaller contingents from other countries. Eighty-three French soldiers have been killed, with fatalities rising from 10 in 2008 to 26 in 2011.

“The menace to our territory coming from Afghanistan, like that to our allies, has not totally disappeared but is under control,” Holland explained to the journalists traveling with him.

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