Faster than NATO, France ends its Afghan combat role
BY Associated Press
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
11/21/12 at 4:11 AM
PARIS (AP) - France on Tuesday ended its combat operations in Afghanistan, pulling hundreds of troops from a base in a volatile region northeast of Kabul and fulfilling promises to end its combat role on a faster track than other NATO allies.
After a handover ceremony with Afghan troops, 500 French combat soldiers in trucks and armored vehicles left the Nijrab base in the Kapisa region - where anti-government insurgents have been active - and traveled southwest to Kabul, the capital, said Col. Thierry Burkhard, a French military spokesman.
"This is the end of combat operations," Burkhard told The Associated Press, adding that the withdrawal went smoothly. "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 - though far smaller than the tens of thousands of U.S. troops there. 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 neighboring 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 U.S.-led combat operation to end.
France has lost 88 troops in Afghanistan since late 2001.
Tuesday's move put President Francois Hollande, who beat Sarkozy in a springtime presidential election, on track to make good on his campaign-trail 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 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.