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France's Hollande sets conditions on Afghan financing
CHICAGO (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande said on Monday France had been asked to contribute a little less than $200 million for long-term funding to Afghanistan, but he signaled there would be no commitments until Paris knew how the money would be managed.
The U.S. administration is unwilling to foot the entire annual bill to maintain Afghan forces after 2014, which is estimated at $4.1 billion, and has been seeking pledges from allies of $1.3 billion, despite austerity measures brought on by Europe's financial crisis.
"We will study the request for funding," Hollande said. "But we have put a condition to it which is to know whether these contributions will be efficiently managed."
Germany already has committed $190 million and Britain $110 million.
"We haven't set a fixed amount but we are not tied to what Germany or any other country does," Hollande said.
Paris will make a decision on its contributions by July.
Socialist Hollande, who made clear during his election campaign he would not automatically align himself to Western allies and the United States, vowed at the summit to stick to his election pledge to withdraw French troops by the year's end - two years earlier than the NATO timetable.
Hollande's team has yet to give a detailed timeline of its exit plans, although diplomatic sources said the president planned to provide the calendar within the next 10 days.
With tight budgetary constraints at home, Hollande also said withdrawing France's remaining troops could prove costly, making it difficult to say exactly when all its forces would leave Afghanistan.
While frontline troops, about 2,000 of its 3,400 strong contingent, will return by year-end, a portion of the soldiers will remain to provide support and training operations as well as securing equipment.
Along with its ground troops, France has 14 helicopters, 900 vehicles and 1,400 containers that would need to be shipped out. It would need to negotiate authorizations from Uzbekistan and Pakistan for road passages as well as agreements to hire planes large enough to carry such loads.
Preliminary estimates of pullout costs for France are about $150 million, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
"We will need personnel to bring back our equipment. I don't know how long it will take because we have to find routes, the logistical ways within the right security conditions and we have to make sure the costs that are not too elevated," Hollande said.
(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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