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French troops to begin Afghanistan withdrawal in July, Hollande

Reuters/Omar Sobhani

French President François Hollande say France will begin to withdraw troops from Afghanistan next month and complete the process by the end of the year. 

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His statement follows a suicide attack against a convoy of Nato-led troops in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday which killed at least four French soldiers and wounded several others.  Hollande said France would pay 'national' hommage' to the men.

Afghanistan's interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told the French news agency the attacker was on foot and wearing a burqa.

"This morning a suicide bomber on foot disguised as woman with a burqa on approached the French troops who were on patrol in Nijrab. He detonated his explosives that caused some fatalities," he said

"From the Afghan side we can only confirm three civilians wounded," he said, adding that there were casualties among foreign forces.

In line with policy, International Security Assistance Force, Isaf, did not disclose the nationalities of the troops but local officials said the attack in Nijrab district of Kapisa province targeted a convoy of French troops.

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Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message sent to reporters.

France has 3,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly stationed in Kapisa, and provides the fifth largest contingent to Nato's 130,000-strong US-led force.

Kapisa, which controls part of the access to Kabul from Taliban flashpoints on the Pakistani border, has proved a tough fight for the French, troubled by turf wars between the Islamist insurgents and drug dealers.

With the latest deaths, France has lost 87 soldiers in Afghanistan.

French President Francois Hollande plans to recall French combat troops by the end of 2012, a year earlier than Paris initially planned, and two years before NATO allies.

Nato allies have downplayed the effect of their early departure, saying Afghan troops are ready to take over.
 

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