Wednesday, 19 October 2011

First 200 French Soldiers Leave Afghanistan

Local Editor
The first 200 French soldiers left Afghanistan on Wednesday, starting troop withdrawals announced three months ago by Paris as part of NATO plans to wind down its combat mission by 2014.

In total, a quarter of France's current troop deployment is scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan before the end of 2012, ahead of a full drawdown of NATO's combat mission scheduled for 2014.

France has some 4,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, mostly in the district of Surobi and in the neighboring province of Kapisa, part of the NATO-led force of 130,000 foreign troops, two-thirds of whom are Americans.

The departures are in line with a national transition process that began in seven areas of the country in July, meant to hand responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

"The United States, the leaders of this coalition, proceeded with a withdrawal, we are proceeding with a proportionate withdrawal," said French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet in Paris.

The United States, Britain and Belgium have also announced partial withdrawals, with some US troops already heading home this summer as Western voters tire of more than a decade at war against a strong Taliban insurgency.

The speed of the French withdrawal surprised some military officials, but comes as French President Nicolas Sarkozy gears up for a presidential election next year and after a particularly deadly summer for the troops.

France lost 17 soldiers between June 1 and September 7, bringing to 75 the number killed as part of military operations in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion drove the Taliban from power.

A total of 194 soldiers, including 172 legionnaires from the 2nd Company of the 2nd Foreign Airborne Regiment, based on the island of Corsica southeast of France, flew out of Kabul airport late Wednesday afternoon.
All are heading to Cyprus for several days of "decompression" before returning to France, as with all French soldiers leaving the Afghan theatre.
Source: Agencies

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