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Asia-Pacific

Last French combat troops quit Afghanistan

media Still there - German Bundeswehr troops near Masar-e-Sharif in the north … Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

The last French combat troops left Afghanistan at 2.30pm local time Saturday, fulfilling one President François Hollande’s campaign promises. About 1,500 remain to train Afghan soldiers and repatriate equipment.

About 200 soldiers from the 25th Belfort infantry regiment flew out on Saturday, airport officials said.

Dossier: AfPak news and analysis

They are not expected back in France until 18 December, following a three-day decompression stay on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

France is leaving about 1,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, mainly in Kabul.

They are responsible for repatriating equipment, apparently a more burdensome task than the politicians had calculated, and training soldiers of the Afghan National Army.

A total of 88 French soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001.

France is bringing its troops home two years before the official departure date of Nato combat troops, set by the US.

During this year’s French presidential campaign, Hollande promised to bring them back in 2012, a year earlier than the date pledged by incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy following the killing of four French soldiers by an Afghan soldier they were training.

France at one time had 4,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, making it the fifth largest contingent of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), behind the US, Britain, Germany and Italy.

US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta visited Kabul on Wednesday to discuss how many American troops will stay behind after 2014.

The Obama administration wants to keep 10,000 after the official withdrawal, according to the AFP news agency, while the military command wants 15,000 to stay. Most of them would be at the Bagram base, near Kabul.

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