Sweden to start cutting Afghan troops in 2012

STOCKHOLM Mon Nov 1, 2010 10:51am EDT

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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden said Monday it hoped to begin withdrawing its contingent of about 600 troops from Afghanistan in 2012, gradually shifting from combat activities to a more supportive role in building civil institutions.

Sweden's troops, part of the nearly 150,000-strong U.S. and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, are based in Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, one of Afghanistan's quieter areas although Taliban attacks have increased in nearby provinces.

"We are going to continue to have a strong Swedish presence, but with a changed mandate," Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told reporters. "We have an ambition to go from combat troops to a more supportive role, to hand over to the Afghans."

Reinfeldt said Sweden would start handing over responsibility for security in the region to Afghan forces next year and start reducing the number of its troops in 2012. The handover will depend on the security situation.

In February this year two Swedes and their Afghan translator were killed, bringing the number of Swedish deaths to five since the country first committed forces to Afghanistan in late 2001.

The government, which lost its majority in an election in September, has the backing of the opposition Social Democrats and the Green party for its new policy.

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