France has begun withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, a process expected to take five months.
The first group of combat troops – based at Sourbi district in Kabul province – had passed security control to Afghan forces in April, but a formal ceremony was held on Tuesday to complete the handover, two years ahead of NATO’s pullout.
Some French troops will remain deployed in two other areas until the end of the year, namely Kabul and the unstable Kapisa province.
General Eric Hauteclocque Raysz, Brigade Commander in Kapisa province said: “It is up to them now (the Afghans) and, progressively, the transfer of responsibilities is taking place. Their skills are improving and today, for the area of Kapisa and Sorubi, the army and Afghan police are greatly able to ensure security.”
The withdrawal of 2,000 combat troops was originally announced by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. But it was brought forward a year in an election pledge by new leader Francois Hollande.
Around 1,800 military personnel will remain until the full NATO withdrawal in 2014.
Eighty-seven French soldiers have been killed since the 2001 US-led invasion.