France ends Afghan combat role
Published 20/11/2012 | 14:29
France has ended its combat operations in Afghanistan, fulfilling promises to end its role on a faster track than other Nato allies.
After a handover ceremony with Afghan troops, 500 French combat soldiers in trucks and armoured vehicles left the Nijrab base in the Kapisa region - where anti-government insurgents have been active - and travelled to Kabul, the capital.
A French military spokesman said: "This is the end of combat operations. It's the end of support operations for the Afghan National Army because we have no more troops who can deploy in such a role."
France was once one of the largest contributors to the Nato mission in Afghanistan, with a peak deployment of 4,000 troops. Since mid-2008, French forces were deployed in Kapisa, a crescent-shaped and strategic region along mountains between Kabul and the Pakistani border.
France already pulled out its forces from the neighbouring Surobi district of Kabul province - a less violent area than Kapisa - earlier this year after then-president Nicolas Sarkozy said his country would pull combat troops out ahead of Nato's 2014 timetable for the US-led combat operation to end.
French public opinion has gradually soured on the Afghanistan mission, and a string of insurgent attacks that raised the French death toll preceded a decision by both Mr Sarkozy and his successor Francois Hollande to speed up the French withdrawal. France has lost 88 troops in Afghanistan since late 2001.
The pull-out put Mr Hollande on track to make good on his election promise to withdraw all French combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. Hundreds of French troops were expected to fly out of Kabul in the coming weeks.
France has been preparing such a handover for months, recently focusing on training Afghan forces instead of having French troops lead patrols in Kapisa. France had officially transferred the first command to the Afghan National Security Forces there in autumn last year, with French troops in a backup role.
France plans to maintain 1,500 troops in Afghanistan next year, mainly to repatriate equipment deployed during the 11-year French military role as part of the allied intervention in Afghanistan. About 500 will help train and support Afghan forces, and help run Kabul's airport.