France pledges battalion in NATO Afghan revamp

Wed Apr 2, 2008 8:06pm EDT
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By Mark John and Randall Palmer

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - France pledged on Wednesday to send up to 1,000 troops to Afghanistan in a move that will avert a Canadian threat to pull its contingent out of NATO's war in the violent south, the alliance said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's offer of a battalion -- which French military sources put at between 800 and 1,000 soldiers -- comes as Paris prepares a possible return to NATO's military command next year after more than four decades of absence.

"I can confirm the French government has offered a substantial military contribution to operations in Afghanistan," a NATO spokesman said after the first session of a three-day summit of the 26-nation defense alliance in Bucharest.

He said the battalion would go to east Afghanistan, allowing U.S. troops stationed there to be sent to reinforce a 2,500-strong Canadian contingent in the south, now due to stay until 2011.

Ottawa had said it could pull its 2,500 troops out of the fight next year if the reinforcements were not forthcoming.

A spokeswoman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed the French offer and said the United States had subsequently confirmed its troops would go to the Afghan south, including the Kandahar province overseen by Canada.

"Many heads of government acknowledge Canada's significant contribution in Afghanistan and decision to extend our presence," the spokeswoman said.

French officials said there would be no official comment on the offer until the second day of the summit on Thursday, when Afghanistan is formally on the agenda.   Continued...

<p>A French soldier from NATO patrols in Kabul April 1, 2008. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood</p>