First 200 French soldiers to leave Afghanistan

The departures are in line with a transition process that began in seven areas in July.

Kabul: A first group of 200 French soldiers
was due to leave Afghanistan on Wednesday as part of an early troop
withdrawal announced in July by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

A further 200 French soldiers are due to return home
before Christmas, with another 600 leaving in 2012, ahead of a
full drawdown of NATO`s combat mission scheduled in 2014.

France has some 4,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan,
mostly in the district of Surobi and in the neighbouring
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 transition process that
began in seven areas in July, meant to hand responsibility for
security across the country to Afghan security forces by the
end of 2014.

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.

A total of 194 soldiers, including 172 legionnaires from
the 2nd Company of the 2nd Foreign Airborne Regiment, based in
Calvi on the island of Corsica southeast of France, were due
to take off in the afternoon from Kabul.

The legionnaires were deployed at Torah base in Surobi,
about 50 kilometres east of Kabul.

The departure of the men "will not have an impact on
operations at the (Torah) base and the pace of operations,"
Colonel Lionel Jeand`heurs, who commands the French contingent
deployed in Surobi, said recently.

A further 11 troops responsible for training the Afghan
army will also leave today.