Q. – What’s the timetable for our soldiers’ withdrawal from Afghanistan?
THE MINISTER – President Sarkozy has taken a decision in line with the transition timetable laid down by the coalition at the Lisbon summit and set for 2014. With this in mind, and in consultation with our allies, he announced the return of 1,000 soldiers by the end of 2012. This process – which corresponds to the beginning of the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan forces – will begin in late 2011 with the withdrawal of a first unit of 200 soldiers, scheduled for before the end of October. A second reduction in troop numbers will occur before Christmas.
Q. – Is the French contingent adopting a more defensive stance?
THE MINISTER – We’re constantly adapting our modus operandi to enable the Afghan army to work effectively, so we must go at its pace and not replace it. It’s gradually taking on more responsibilities and acquiring real operational effectiveness based on Afghan soldiers’ traditional qualities: endurance, resilience and bravery in combat.
We’re not fighting the war in its place, but we’re continuing to support its operations. The aim is to be in a position to transfer security responsibilities to the Afghan authorities.
Q. – How is the French military engagement currently faring?
THE MINISTER – In Surobi District the Afghan army is in a position to take over, and the decision on transferring responsibility should be taken by President Karzai in October. In Kapisa Province the situation is more complex. The announcement of the overall transfer of security responsibilities by the end of 2014 created unrest around Tagab.
We’re finding we are no longer engaged in any direct fighting but are confronted with an increase in terrorism, marked by the use of Improvised Explosive Devices. We can’t combat this new trend without systematically seeking out weapons caches. This means pre-emptive operations, conducted by the Afghan army with our support. These operations inevitably expose our soldiers to ambushes.
Q. – Shouldn’t we fear a resumption of the civil war the day after NATO troops withdraw?
THE MINISTER – Peace requires an Afghan and Pakistani political solution. Afghanistan is at the centre of a battle for influence – particularly between India and Pakistan – rather than of a mere civil war between Tajiks and Pashtuns.
Q. – What remains to be done in Libya?
THE MINISTER – As long as there’s a conflict situation, the National Transitional Council (NTC) needs to bring it to an end on the ground.
This isn’t a matter for NATO, which is providing only air support. I think this situation is going to be resolved quite quickly. The problem today is more political than military. A government must be formed in which everyone wants to play a part. This is also up to the Libyans.
Q. – Are measures being taken to limit the proliferation of weapons in the region?
THE MINISTER – We’re very actively working to tackle this risk, especially as the borders are extremely porous. What’s happening in Fezzan, southern Libya, requires states with whom we have cooperation agreements – Chad, Niger and Mali – to be secure. We’ve raised awareness in those countries and are offering our assistance. But we’re also tackling the roots of the problem by drawing up measures with our partners to locate and secure within Libya the weapons of former leader Gaddafi.
Q. – What lessons have you learned from the Libyan operation?
THE MINISTER – On 12 October, British Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox is due to have a meeting with me to prepare for a joint “lessons learned” session. On the positive side, when America withdrew her strike capabilities, the operation kept going. Another thing I’ve learned is that the return of France to NATO’s integrated military structure allowed us to influence the conduct of operations and, with the British, lead the coalition. (…)./.