Poland pledges 1,000 more troops for Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

Poland is to send 1,000 extra soldiers to Afghanistan after Nato's urgent plea for reinforcements, so they can combat attacks from a reinvigorated Taliban.

However the deployment of the troops will not be begin until February next year and it is expected to be several weeks after that before they move into position. Furthermore, Warsaw insists the bulk of the forces should be based in the east rather than the south where British, Canadian and Dutch forces have been engaged in fierce battles with Islamist fighters.

Nato officers have asked for extra forces to be in place for an Autumn offensive which they say is needed to counter the insurgency.

The numbers involved fall far short of the minimum of 2,500 soldiers, as well as armour and aircraft, requested by General James Jones, the organisation's military head. Western forces are particularly short of helicopters - and land convoys are regularly ambushed by Islamist fighters.

However, the Nato secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, welcomed the extra troops and said they could develop into a reserve force supporting operations across the whole country.

"This is a very important step," he said in Brussels. "If it comes, it would free up other forces. The idea is a reserve for the whole of Afghanistan. We are not linking this to the north or south or east."

The announcement confirmed long-held plans for Poland, which has 100 soldiers in Afghanistan, to add troops there as part of a Nato rotation due next February. That will take total troop levels of its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) up to 21,000.

The EU's Afghanistan representative, Francesc Vendrell, said: "It is urgent to try now to send these 2,500 forces which would make a great deal of difference." He urged other Nato countries to contribute. But no further firm offers to contribute had been placed on the table by close of proceedings yesterday.

Afghanistan is seeing its heaviest violence since US-led forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001. More than 2,000 people, mainly rebels but including civilians and Afghan and foreign troops, have been killed in fighting this year.

General Jones said: "We are bringing that region into a position where stability and security will prevail and reconstruction will start in the very near future. What was surprising was the level of intensity and the tactics that the opposition forces use."

President Bush will meet later this month with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, over repeated Afghan claims that Pakistan is harbouring Taliban fighters.