April 15, 2008 / 1:06 PM / 10 years ago

French, Canadian ministers pledge Afghan support

KABUL (Reuters) - Two of Afghanistan’s main allies, France and Canada, reaffirmed their support on Saturday after meetings with President Hamid Karzai.

<p>France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (L), Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dafar Spanta (C) and Canada's Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier put their hands together after a news conference in Kabul April 12, 2008. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood</p>

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner visited Kabul after Paris promised an extra 700 soldiers to help battle the Taliban and he spoke of the importance of “Afghanistanisation,” when Afghans take over responsibility for tackling their problems.

The battle was not only against the resurgent Taliban but also against poverty, corruption and to promote human rights, good governance and democracy, he said.

“It will only be along this difficult way that we can find better involvement of the Afghans for their daily life and future,” Kouchner told a news conference.

French officials have said France’s reinforcements were conditional on a more unified overall strategy on issues including development, and on progressively handing over responsibility for security and other issues to Afghans.

France is to host a conference on June 12 aimed at raising funds for Afghanistan and reviewing strategy.

Afghanistan’s allies pledged long-term support at a NATO summit this month but there has been tension within the alliance over troop contributions.

“STILL A CHALLENGE”

Canada says it will keep its 2,500 troops in Afghanistan after the French promise of reinforcements for the east. That will allow some U.S. troops to move to help the Canadians in the violent south.

Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier thanked France for its reinforcements. “Without security we cannot have economic development,” he said. “It’s a long-term goal but it’s a goal that can be achieved by the international community.”

NATO commands a 47,000-strong force in Afghanistan, about 19,000 of its troops from the United States, 7,750 from Britain and for now, 1,430 from France. The United States leads a separate coalition force.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, facing opposition at home to Canada’s Afghan involvement, said this month he believed Afghanistan’s army would by 2011 be able to take over leadership of military operations in the south.

With a view to meeting that target, Bernier said Canadian forces would focus more on training Afghan security forces.

“It’s still a challenge and we know it. That’s why we want to train more Afghan National Army to be sure that, all together, we’ll have more forces to secure the south,” he said.

In a reminder of the dangers of a resurgent Taliban, three Indian road workers and an Afghan were killed on Saturday in a suicide bomb attack the Taliban claimed.

Separately, 24 Taliban were killed in a Friday night battle in Zabul province, a government official said.

Editing by Robert Woodward

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