PARIS, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- French troops stationed in Afghanistan could begin withdrawing from the country as soon as next year, French Defense Minister Herve Morin said Thursday.
Morin said the pullout was timed with the transfer of security duties to Afghan forces in a number of districts, and not related to Wednesday's threat against France allegedly made by Osama bin Laden, Radio France Internationale reported.
"There's a fixed date for NATO in the framework of its new strategy ... because in 2011 we're going to transfer a whole series of districts to the Afghans," Morin said. "At that moment, there could be the first movements or first withdrawals of allied forces from Afghanistan. In any case, that's the calendar set by Barack Obama, that in 2011 the first American troops could quit Afghanistan."
Morin said it was too early to tell if the threat, sent to al-Jazeera television network, was genuine. In the tape, the apparent voice of bin Laden warned that France was open to retaliation because of its nearly 3,500 troops in Afghanistan and its ban on the burqa, the Islamic full-face veil.
"It's not impossible," the minister said. "All of our services and all of our allies believe Osama bin Laden is alive."
The voice said, "The only way to safeguard your nation and maintain your security is to lift all your injustice and its extensions off our people and most importantly to withdraw your forces from Bush's despicable war in Afghanistan," CNN reported.
CNN said it couldn't immediately confirm that the speaker on the audio-only tape really was bin Laden.