France to guard Kabul hospital, airport until 2014: minister
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
A handout picture released on June 10, 2012 by the ECPAD show French soldiers standing, at the airport in Kabul. AFP PhotoThe French military will guard Kabul's military hospital and the city's international airport until 2014, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today.
France is the fifth largest contributor to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is due to pull out the vast majority of its 130,000 troops by the end of 2014.
On Wednesday, French troops handed over the key Afghan province of Kapisa to local forces, completing an important stage in the accelerated withdrawal from the war-torn country.
Kapisa was the last area of Afghanistan under the control of French soldiers, the bulk of whom are due to leave by the end of 2012, two years earlier than the main NATO deadline.
"From this Tuesday, July 10, our three Mirage 2000D jets still based in Kandahar, will rejoin their base in Nancy," in northeastern France, the defence minister told French newspaper Le Parisien.
"And on August 1, 650 of our 3,400 men currently on the ground will have left Afghanistan," he said.
"We will be responsible for the military hospital in Kabul ... and continue training programmes," until 2014, he said. "And from October 1, we will take responsibility for Kabul international airport" over the same period.
Before his election in May, President Francois Hollande promised to speed up France's withdrawal from Afghanistan so it would be completed by the end of 2012 -- a year earlier than Paris initially planned and two years before the NATO deadline.
France plans to withdraw 2,000 troops fighting with ISAF against the decade-long Taliban insurgency this year.