KABUL - President Francois Hollande of France made a surprise visit to French troops in Kapisa Province on Friday, assuring them that their mission in Afghanistan would be over this year.
The visit came less than a week after the new French president announced at a NATO summit that France would pull its troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, two years ahead of the 2014 deadline previously agreed to by NATO and the United States for withdrawal.
At a news conference here with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Hollande said that while French combat forces would leave this year, French advisers and trainers would remain in the country to help the Afghan defense and interior ministries. In addition, he said, French nonmilitary aid will be increased, although he did not give specifics.
Karzai did not refer to the French troop withdrawal during the brief news conference, which was cut short by rain before anyone asked about his views on the subject.
With his visit, Hollande was clearly trying to demonstrate his support for French troops and the NATO mission despite his controversial pledge to withdraw all French combat forces ahead of schedule.
US and other NATO officials said privately that they were upset by the French position, because it would encourage other allies to break the NATO vow of “in together, out together.’’
Hollande made the pledge during his election campaign, which pushed Nicolas Sarkozy, then the president, to declare that he would withdraw combat forces by the end of 2013.
Sarkozy began considering an earlier pullout after the killings of six French soldiers by Afghan soldiers in two attacks.
Also Friday, five Afghan civilians were killed and 16 wounded when a passenger bus hit a roadside bomb in Ghazni Province, according to Zarewar Zahid, the police chief of Ghazni.
The episode took place on the main highway between Kandahar and Kabul, in Qarabagh District.
A second passenger bus was also blown up by a roadside bomb in southern Helmand Province, with two people reported killed and three wounded, said Gulai Khan, the district governor of Gerishk District.
The authorities blamed the Taliban for both attacks.