France is to withdraw 200 members of its special forces from eastern Afghanistan within weeks, Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Sunday.
“There is a general reorganization of our (troops),” she said during a visit to Afghanistan. The minister’s remarks were aired on France-Info radio.
Among planned changes is a “withdrawal of special forces from Jalalabad in the coming weeks,” she said.
France has 1,700 troops, in addition to the special forces, in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The Defense Ministry said the 200 special forces would withdraw “at the start of 2007.”
French newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, reported a week ago that a pullout of special forces in the southeast was expected. It quoted sources “close to the military” and said that the decision was made by the president of the republic and the army chiefs of staff.
Deployed in southeastern Afghanistan, the elite French troops have been involved in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban and the search for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The newspaper suggested the worsening security situation in Afghanistan was a possible reason for the decision to pull the special troops out. Nine elite troops have been killed in combat.
French troops have been in Afghanistan since July 2003.