France may send more troops to Afghanistan

1/04/2008 - 15:20

PARIS (Reuters) - France may send a few hundred additional troops to Afghanistan to help NATO allies fight the Taliban and train the Afghan army, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Tuesday.

France already has some 1,500 troops based in Afghanistanserving as part of a 47,000-strong NATO force and FrenchPresident Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to announce later thisweek that the contingent will be reinforced.

"Our armed forces in Afghanistan may invest more in thecommand structures, particularly in Kabul, in training theAfghan army and in the units in the Afghan provinces," Fillonsaid during a parliamentary debate on the Afghan operation.

"The numbers could be something like a few hundred extrasoldiers," he said, adding that France's contribution had notbeen finalised and depended on its NATO allies accepting abroader strategy for Afghanistan.

The parliamentary debate was called by the oppositionSocialists who have attacked Sarkozy for planning to bolsterthe French force just a year after he indicated that he did notsee any future for France's contingent in Afghanistan.

A BVA opinion poll published on Monday said 68 percent ofFrench people disapproved of any strengthening of the Frenchoperation while just 15 percent approved.

The Socialists said they intended to submit a motion of noconfidence against the government "in the coming days" forrefusing to hold a vote on the Afghan deployment in the lowerhouse of parliament.

Fillon said there was no need for a parliamentary votebecause French soldiers were already present in Afghanistan,adding that sending more troops would increase the chances ofbringing peace to the country.

France's constitution gives the president the power to sendsoldiers to combat zones without parliamentary approval.

NATO powers will meet in the Romanian capital from April 2to 4 and Afghanistan is expected to be a main issue.

The United States and Britain have repeatedly called onNATO allies in recent months to boost their contribution to theforce in Afghanistan, where there are signs that the Talibanmilitancy is growing in strength.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy, editing by Crispian Balmer)

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