VANNES, France – French President Nicolas Sarkozy defended his country's military force in Afghanistan, saying Friday that now is not the time to pull out.
Sarkozy did not say, though, whether France would send more troops, as U.S. allies have urged. The French leader has said he is waiting for an international conference on Afghanistan in London on Jan. 28 before discussing any further troop commitments.
"We should continue to help Afghans until they are in a position to assure their own security and development," Sarkozy said in a New Year's speech to the French military at a marine base in western France.
He discussed overall military plans for 2010 as he spoke to a unit — the 3rd marine infantry regiment, based in Vannes in Brittany — that lost five soldiers in Afghanistan last year.
"When circumstances so require, it is my duty as commander in chief to maintain our soldiers in their posts, as is the case in Afghanistan today, where the conditions for a withdrawal have not been met," Sarkozy said.
He met Friday with families of troops killed in Afghanistan and reviewed the troops before giving his speech.
France has lost 36 troops in Afghanistan, 11 of them last year. About 3,500 French troops are currently serving in the country.
French authorities are working quietly for the release of two French television journalists kidnapped in Afghanistan last week.
Sarkozy said he hoped to pull French troops out of other deployments, including in Kosovo and Ivory Coast. France is reducing its troop strength in Kosovo on Friday from 1,300 to 800 as part of a reorganization of the international force.
Sarkozy defended his shifting defense strategies, meant to focus more on fighting terrorism and more mobile modern threats while cutting back on spending on conventional forces and shutting down little-used bases.
He insisted on the importance of France's participation in NATO. France rejoined NATO's integrated military command in 2009, more than 40 years after quitting it and kicking American military bases off French soil.