KABUL, Afghanistan - The leaders of France and Australia met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday, each pledging his country's long-term commitment to Afghanistan.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the first French president to visit Afghanistan, signaled that French troops would not pull out of the country any time soon. He told Karzai that France had a long-term political and military interest in Afghanistan, Karzai's office said in a statement.
"We did not want to give the signal of a withdrawal, which would have been a detestable signal at a time when we see the ravages that terrorism can do to the world," Sarkozy said on France-Info radio.
France announced its decision a year ago to withdraw 200 elite Special Forces, raising questions about whether the pullout would precede a larger withdrawal.
French television quoted Sarkozy as suggesting that more combat instructors could be sent to Afghanistan, creating a "qualitative" but not a "quantitative" increase. There now are about 1,300 French troops in Afghanistan.
U.S. military leaders have pleaded with NATO countries to contribute more forces to Afghanistan. About 26,000 of the 50,000 international troops in Afghanistan are American.
Sarkozy said that the first contribution of French forces in Afghanistan was to help train the Afghan army and police, and to assist in the building of the Afghan state, administration and justice systems.
Sarkozy also planned to meet some of the 1,300 French troops who are mostly stationed in the Kabul region as part of NATO's military force.
Hours after his meeting with Sarkozy, Karzai met with Australia's new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who was visiting some of the 900 Australian troops stationed in Uruzgan province, site of fierce battles this year.
Rudd, whose party won parliamentary elections last month, said he wanted to make an early visit to the troops and confirm Australia's commitment to Afghanistan.
The trip follows a surprise visit to Iraq, where he met with officials to discuss plans to pull his country's 550 combat troops out of the country by mid-2008. But he said Australia would hold firm in Afghanistan.