Bin Laden demands France withdraw from Afghanistan

Osama bin Laden demanded that France withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the release of French hostages being held by al-Qaida affiliates, according to an audio message broadcast on an Arabic news channel Friday.

“The exit of your hostages out of the hands of our brothers depends on the exit of your troops from Afghanistan,” bin Laden said in the message broadcast by Al-Jazeera.

Extremist groups associated with al-Qaida are holding at least seven French hostages, including five in the Sahara Desert and two in Afghanistan.

France has about 3,850 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission fighting the Taliban. French forces are deployed mainly in the Kapisa and Surobi districts north and east of Kabul, the Afghan capital.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said his nation remains undaunted in its role to help stabilize Afghanistan.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Bin Laden’s message was still being authenticated. “We are determined to continue our efforts on behalf of the Afghan people, with our allies,” Valero said.

Bin Laden reminded the French people of Sarkozy’s refusal in November to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan and to negotiate with al-Qaida over the hostages.