Belgium to halve troop numbers in Afghanistan from January

26th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Belgium plans to halve its troop numbers in Afghanistan from the start of January, a defence ministry official told AFP on Sunday in the latest sign of allied exit from the decade-old war.

"The main reduction will be in Kabul, where the minister has determined that our objective has been met by some distance," said Didier Deweerdt, a spokesman for Defence Minister Pieter De Crem.

Out of a total strength of 585 currently in the country, the 325-strong contingent of soldiers working to secure the airport in Kabul will fall to just 60, he said.

Others will also leave northern Kunduz where Belgian troops are helping train the Afghan army.

A larger group, though, will remain in southern Kandahar, where six F-16 fighter jets are engaged in supporting international allied operations across the country.

Deweerdt said the proposal, which he stressed has still to go before the caretaker Belgian government, was "in line with the policy of troop reductions announced by the United States and France" since last week.

De Crem told Belgian television that his proposal was made possible by progress towards the "Afghanisation" of the war effort, saying it was time "to give Afghanistan back to the Afghans."

"Their mission is over," De Crem said of the Kabul airport contingent.

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Friday that hundreds of French troops, out of a 4,000-strong contingent, will be withdrawn from Afghanistan before the end of 2011, "in a proportional manner and in a timeframe similar to the pullback of the American reinforcements."

US President Barack Obama last week ordered all 33,000 US surge troops home from Afghanistan by next summer and declared the beginning of the end of the war, saying the withdrawal would begin this July.

Sarkozy said he shared Obama's belief that security had improved since the death of Osama bin Laden, adding that should the situation improve, the pullout of all Western combat troops in 2014 might be "brought forward."

© 2011 AFP

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