French President Francois Hollande makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan
French President Francois Hollande makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan Reuters

New French president Francois Hollande made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan and confirmed his country's troops early withdrawal.

Hollande arrived in Afghanistan to meet with troops and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss plans to pull out 3,300 troops from the country a year ahead of schedule.

The early pullout will be coordinated with the United States and other allies.

His visit was kept secret for security reasons.

"Several reasons justify this decision to withdraw our combat troops from Afghanistan," Hollande explained to French troops at a base in the Nijrab district of eastern Kapisa province. "The time for Afghan sovereignty has come.

"The terrorist threat that targeted our territory, while it hasn't totally disappeared, is in part lessened," the president said, explaining his decision.

A second motive he said "is that, simply, you have carried out your mission".

"Thank you for what you have accomplished for France, what you are doing for Afghanistan," Hollande told the troops before flying to Kabul to meet Karzai.

French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and foreign minister Laurent Fabius are also in Kabul with Hollande.

The president's office said France will continue to cooperate with Afghanistan, in line with a treaty for long-term cooperation signed earlier this year.

Hollande announced plans for early withdrawal at a Nato summit earlier this week, departing from his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy's plans to pull out by the end of 2013.

French troops are based in Kapisa, where transfer to Afghan control has already begun.

Ashraf Ghani, head of a commission overseeing the transition, said earlier this month that "the risks in Kapisa are containable and within our capability".

Most of Nato's other partners have agreed to a plan to hand over command of all combat mission forces to Afghan forces by mid-2013. Final withdrawal of the 130,000 foreign troops is set for 2014.

The French move created fears other partners could follow suit and announce an early withdrawal at a time where the country is still fighting a Taliban insurgency.

Afghan officials said that three explosions in three cities of southern Afghanistan on 25 May killed three and wounded at least nine others.