French troop pullout from Afghanistan to start in July

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, centre, and French President Francois Hollande, right, inspect the honour guards in Kabul, Afghanistan Mr Hollande visited Afghanistan days after his election last month

France will begin its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July and complete it by the end of the year, French President Francois Hollande has said.

The confirmation of the timetable comes hours after four French soldiers were killed and five others wounded.

The Taliban said one of their suicide bombers carried out the attack on a Nato convoy in Kapisa province.

Withdrawing French troops by the end of 2012 had been one of Mr Hollande's election pledges.

The date means that French forces will leave the country two years before the main Nato pullout.

Violence has risen across the country in recent weeks, with the Taliban targeting both the Afghan forces and the 130,000 foreign troops remaining in the country.

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'National tribute'

Afghan officials said the bomber in Saturday's attack approached a French Nato convoy wearing a burka.

Several Afghan civilians were also wounded in the attack.

Mr Hollande said in a statement that a "national tribute" would be paid to the soldiers.

Until the pullout is completed, "everything must be done for our troops to meet their obligations but with... the greatest vigilance for the lives of the soldiers," he added.

France is currently the fifth largest contributor to Nato's Isaf force, with nearly 3,300 soldiers.

The deaths bring to 87 the total number of French fatalities in the country since 2001.

In January the killing of four French soldiers in Kapisa prompted then-President Nicolas Sarkozy to announce a withdrawal by the end of 2013.

Mr Hollande brought it forward by a further year, fulfilling an election pledge.

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