February 10, 2008 / 8:15 AM / 10 years ago

Canadians sound out French on Afghan troop offer

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Canada sent senior officials to Paris on Friday to sound out France on a possible offer of support for 2,500 Canadian troops in south Afghanistan and said it had got its message across to allies on the need for help.

<p>Canadian soldiers from the NATO-led coalition secure positions the day after heavy fighting against insurgents in the Taliban heartland of Sangisar in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, November 18, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly</p>

In what would be a major setback for the NATO peacekeeping mission, Canada has said it will pull its soldiers from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on schedule next February unless other NATO nations provide an extra 1,000 troops there.

“We knocked on a lot of doors. Some of them are open and France is one of those countries ... We are going to have some discussions about logistically how we can make it happen,” Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay told reporters.

A Canadian Defense Ministry spokesman earlier confirmed a delegation was traveling to France, but declined to comment on a Canadian television report they were going to negotiate the transfer of 700 French troops to the south.

MacKay, speaking on the last day of a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting, said it was too early to say exactly what the French help would consist of, but that France had the capability to meet Canada’s requirements.

“We came here with a clear message,” MacKay added of his talks in Vilnius.

“I feel we delivered that message. There is no confusion what the requirements are,” he said, pointing to a need for more troops and equipment. “We achieved some success.”

French Defense Minister Herve Morin told reporters at the NATO meeting on Thursday that Paris was willing to help Canada, but had taken no decision on deploying troops or equipment. France has some 1,500 troops, based mostly in the capital Kabul.

Morin said on Thursday France was studying deployment options as part of a wider reorganization of the 43,000-strong NATO-led Afghan peace force which he expected to be discussed at an April 2-4 alliance summit in Bucharest.

Canada’s minority government plans a parliamentary vote of confidence in late March on prolonging its military mission in Afghanistan, officials said earlier this week.

Reporting by Patrick Lannin, Illona Wiessenbach and Mark John; Editing by Catherine Evans

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