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France Begins Afghan Troop Withdrawal

In this picture taken on October 14 , 2011 French soldiers load cases before leaving the Torah base in the district of Surobi, about 50 kms (30 miles) east of Kabul, Afghanistan.

France is withdrawing 200 of its troops from Afghanistan Wednesday as part of a plan to pull out 1,000 troops by the end of next year.

The French military had said in September that the company of soldiers would leave Afghanistan sometime this month.

France has about 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, and President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to withdraw a quarter of the troops by the end of 2012.

A total of 75 French soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Most international combat troops are set to leave Afghanistan and transfer security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan told the Associated Press Wednesday that the process of handing over security to Afghan forces is going to move faster than expected.

In the interview, General John Allen says that while most of the 10,000 American troops ordered to withdraw by the end of the year will be support troops, one-third will be combat forces.

Allen says most of those withdrawing will come out of northern and western Afghanistan, adding that the U.S. will leave medical units and mine-clearing troops to support German and Italian troops stationed there.

The U.S. and NATO commander also confirmed that the U.S.-led coalition has begun a new offensive against the Haqqani militant network, a Pakistan-based Afghan group with ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Allen did not give details of the offensive, but said it began in recent days in eastern Afghanistan, along the Pakistani border.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.