The first batch of Greek peacekeepers destined to join the international force in Afghanistan took off from Thessaloniki airport yesterday afternoon. The 49 officers and men, accompanied by four Foreign Ministry officials, are expected to make a first stop at Dubai airport tonight. Their C-130 military transport plane – which was specially reinforced for the mission with armor plating on its belly – will take off for Kabul tonight, and is expected to arrive in the Afghan capital tomorrow. The rest of the Greek force, which is to finally number 177 officers and men, is due in Afghanistan in the next two weeks. Mostly sappers, with a sprinkling of clerks and commandos, the Greeks will be deployed 9 kilometers outside Kabul, in a camp shared with British, Italian and Spanish troops. Although the government was quick to offer a contingent for the international, British-led Afghanistan force, the move has been strongly criticized by Greece’s smaller left-wing parties. The Greek Communist Party has repeatedly staged demonstrations to protest at the mission, while yesterday the Democratic Social Movement (DIKKI) accused the ruling socialists as acting like «western satellites… to serve US interests.» Greek soldiers are already serving with international peacekeeping forces in the Balkans. Yesterday, men from the Greek contingent in Kosovo serving in the town of Kosovska Mitrovica extinguished a fire in the only remaining local Orthodox religious building, the 19th-century church of Saint Sava. The causes of the fire were unclear.