Last French fighters out of Afghanistan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 6:16am


France has removed its last combat troops from Afghanistan, two years before the 100,000-strong Nato mission led by the US is due to pull out.

About 200 soldiers of the 25th Belfort infantry regiment, responsible for overseeing the hastened French exit from the 11-year war, took off on Saturday.

They are expected to return to France tomorrow following a three-day demobilisation stay on Cyprus.

Their departure means France has close to 1,500 soldiers left in Afghanistan, the vast majority in Kabul. They are due to stay into next year to repatriate equipment and train the Afghan army to take over. After that date, only a couple of hundred French soldiers involved in co-operation or training missions will remain in the country.

At the height of its involvement, France had 4,000 soldiers in Afghanistan as the fifth largest military contingent, behind the US, Britain, Germany and Italy.

France joined the Nato coalition in late 2001 to back the new government against an insurgency, which began after a United States-led invasion toppled the Taliban government earlier that year for giving refuge to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network, following the attacks on New York and Washington.

In 2007, the French moved into the province of Kapisa, which straddles the route from Kabul to Pakistan, after president Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to an American request to take on more action against the Taliban.

After a series of attacks, notably in January when an Afghan soldier shot dead five French troops, Sarkozy announced that the combat mission in Kapisa and the district of Surobi would end next year.

His successor, Francois Hollande, moved that to the end of this year. The last French combat soldiers left Kapisa for Kabul on November 20.