Sarkozy's troop pledge for Afghan campaign 'may encourage others'

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The Independent Online

France's decision to dispatch at least 1,000 soldiers to bolster the Nato campaign in Afghanistan will set a powerful example likely to encourage European countries to follow suit, according to a senior British official.

"It will allow others to come through," the official said. "The Belgians have, but so might the Spanish now they've had their election, and the Italians after their election," which is scheduled for 13-14 April.

Troops from all three countries are already present in Afghanistan but Nato has been pressing – and will continue to do so at its summit tomorrow – for reinforcements to shore up the campaign against the Taliban.

France is to boost the 1,600-strong French contingent in Afghanistan with hundreds of paratroopers, plus a small number of special forces who were pulled out in January last year.

However President Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced the decision to boost the French deployment during a visit to Britain last week and, in the process, caused a political uproar in Paris, stressed the additional troops were conditional on Nato agreeing an overall strategy pinned on reconstruction and development.

"The French soldiers are not just going to fill a hole," said a French official, referring to reports that the French deployment in the east would allow the Americans to deploy in the south to help Canadian troops, who have lost 80 soldiers since 2002.

As part of its drive to join Nato, the former Soviet republic of Georgia yesterday offered to send more than 300 troops to bolster the French and Dutch contingents in Afghanistan. However, Nato wants to avoid additional friction with Russia by placing Georgia and Ukraine on the path to future membership. The summit is expected to formally invite Albania, Croatia and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia to join.

*A Danish soldier and two British soldiers from a Nato-led force have been killed in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

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