France has begun to raise the pace of its withdrawal from Afghanistan: a campaign promise made by new President François Hollande.
Hollande had said he wanted all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, instead of 2014 as originally planned, but at least 1,450 soldiers and gendarmes (militarized police) will still be there next year, that number dropping to around 400 by 2014.
The defense ministry explained today that 2,000 French soldiers would leave the Kapisa and Surobi regions where they are deployed by the end of this year. But 1,400 troops will remain in order to continue the withdrawal, notably of the tons of equipment in the country, and to train the Afghan National Army as well as providing continued support to ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). In addition, there will remain 50 gendarmes to help train the Afghan police force.
The military materiel is being returned to France both by air and by a mixed air/naval route (Afghanistan to the Gulf by air and then the Gulf to France by ship). Two rail routes, one via the south, the other via the north, are also being considered.
Since January, when the withdrawal slowly began, there have been 68 flights and two ships used to return over 250 vehicles and more than 180 containers. "This is an extremely complex operation which needs a lot of organization and which can be perturbed at any time by the insurgents," a defense ministry spokesman explained.