Members of the multinational Eurocorps military unit left for Afghanistan on Friday to take over command of peacekeeping operations in the country next week. It's the unit's first mission outside of Europe.
The unit served in Bosnia from 1998 to 2000
Created in 1992, Eurocorps, a French-German initiative that's also backed by Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg, is scheduled to replace Canadian soldiers in leading the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan for the next six months.
They will coordinate peacekeeping operations, overseeing about 7,000 NATO troops from 30 countries currently stationed in Afghanistan. ISAF was set up by the United Nations in 2001, shortly after the fall of the Taliban regime.
French General Jean-Louis Py, who will serve as commander, said Eurocorps troops would be in place by the end of August.
"It's taking so long, because we have to exchange a lot of personnel," he said on Thursday, according to German public broadcaster SWR. "This way we won't have to hit the ground running, but instead can enter the stage step by step."
The new commando will include about 300 people from Eurocorps headquarters in addition to 1,500 French and German soldiers, who are manning the regional ISAF commando in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
German soldiers in Afghanistan in February
The mission's main goal is to improve security in Afghanistan ahead of presidential elections scheduled for Oct. 9. NATO has also said it will send about 1,800 additional troops to the country to help safeguard the elections, bringing the alliance's total number of soldiers in Afghanistan to 8,300. Germany has about 2,000 soldiers stationed there.
"It is an extremely important step for Eurocorps, which well shows the synergy with NATO," Py said, describing himself as a "conductor" whose role was to "put to music" NATO decisions, AFP reported.
While saying that the situation in Afghanistan was relatively peaceful at the moment, Py added things could change quickly. "People are nervous because of the elections," he said.