France hopes to hand Afghan forces military responsibility next year for one of two regions in Afghanistan where it has troops, French Defence Minister Herve Morin said.
Morin said the prospect of a troop reduction was not linked to a recent demand by Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that Paris withdraw forces from the country.
The minister stopped short of saying whether the troops would simply be moved out of the Surobi region or pulled out of Afghanistan entirely, Reuters reports.
“(Surobi)…is today a zone where stability and peace are assured and it’s a zone in which we hope we can transfer responsibilities to the Afghans during 2011,” Morin told French radio RTL.
The United States and other coalition members have said they aim to start reducing forces in Afghanistan next year.
Morin said Afghan forces had been transformed into an army capable of ensuring security. “Before the Afghans were warriors, now they’ve been made into soldiers,” he said.
Morin said there was “absolutely no link” between a possible troop pull-out and bin Laden’s withdrawl demand, aired Wednesday on Al Jazeera television.
“We are still checking on the authenticity of the message,” he said.
France has a 3,500-strong contingent in Afghanistan and some 50 French soldiers have died there since the start of a US-led mission to oust the Taliban from the country in 2001.