France's Sarkozy in Afghanistan to meet troops

French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday for a brief and unannounced visit to meet troops serving with the International Security Assistance Force, a reporter on his plane said.

The French leader was due to head to the Kapisa region northeast of Kabul to visit troops stationed at the Tagab base, a source at the presidential palace earlier told AFP.

It was his third visit to the battle-scarred country since he became president and came two days ahead of the Bastille Day French national holiday. His earlier trips were in December 2007 and in August 2008.

His visit came a day after a 22-year-old French soldier was killed in a shooting blamed on "accidental fire" by another French trooper.

Last month Sarkozy said "several hundred" French troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan before the end of the year.

His office had earlier said France would carry out a progressive pullback of its 4,000 troops "in a proportional manner and in a timeframe similar to the pullback of the American reinforcements".

US President Barack Obama recently ordered all 33,000 US surge troops home from Afghanistan by next summer and declared the beginning of the end of the war, saying the withdrawal would begin this month.

Sarkozy said he shared Obama's belief that security had improved since the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May and that the handover to Afghan troops and police was proceeding smoothly.

Should the situation improve, the pullout of all Western combat troops in 2014 might be "brought forward", he said.

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