- France to redeploy 6 fighter planes from Tajikistan to NATO base in Afghanistan
PARIS (AP) _ France will redeploy six Mirage jets currently stationed in Tajikistan to a NATO base in Afghanistan, Defense Ministry officials said Friday. The redeployment, along with a planned increase in French troops in Afghanistan, comes as new President Nicolas Sarkozy seeks to improve ties with the United States and boost France’s visibility on the world stage. Cmdr. Christophe Prazuck said the planes, based in Dushanbe, are to be transferred to Kandahar, in the troubled south of Afghanistan. Three of the planes _ designed to support ground troops _ are to be transferred in late September, while three others _ equipped for surveillance missions _ are slated to move in mid-October, Prazuck said. Some 150 personnel, including the jets’ pilots and technical crew, are also to be transferred to Afghanistan, Prazuck said. About 300-350 servicemen will remain in Dushanbe to help with transportation to Afghanistan, said the first councilor of the French Embassy in Tajikistan, Olivier Chatelais. The Mirages are part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan. The transfer will allow the planes to spend more time patrolling southern Afghanistan _ a Taliban stronghold _ by eliminating the two-hour flight time to and from Tajikistan. Prazuck said there was a need to « bring (the planes) closer to the zones of action. » He said « there is no change in the mission or the means ». Some 11,000 troops, including Americans, British, Australian, Canadian and Afghan soldiers, are stationed at the Kandahar base. Before the redeployment, French Defense Minister Morin plans to visit Afghanistan Sept. 7-8, Prazuck said. Earlier this week, Sarkozy announced he would send about 150 additional troops to Afghanistan to train the Afghan army, ending months of speculation about France’s commitment to the international force. France has about 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. The additional French troops are to arrive in the country by the end of the year.