First 200 French soldiers to leave Afghanistan
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 (30 miles) 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, told AFP recently.
A further 11 troops responsible for training the Afghan army will also leave on Wednesday.
© 2011 AFP