OTTAWA (Reuters) - Senior Canadian officials will soon fly to Paris to negotiate the transfer of 700 French troops to southern Afghanistan, where Canada’s military mission is based, CTV television said on Thursday.
Canada says it will pull its 2,500 soldiers from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on schedule next February unless NATO dispatches an extra 1,000 troops to the region.
CTV said Canada would talk to France about providing a 700-soldier battle group. It gave no further details.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called several NATO leaders in recent days -- including French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- to stress that other alliance members must do more to help Canada.
“It should come as no surprise that officials are also following up on these discussions ... and we expect there to be more follow-up meetings to take place,” said a Harper spokeswoman, but declined to give more details.
Earlier in the day, France told a meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius that it was studying possible reinforcements.
But French Defence Minister Herve Morin played down media reports that 700 paratroopers could be deployed to the south.
Canada’s minority Conservative government wants to extend the mission beyond 2009 and has promised a confidence vote on the matter in late March. All three opposition parties are against the idea and unless they can strike a compromise with Harper, the government will collapse, forcing an election.
Last month an independent panel said Canada should pull the troops out as scheduled, unless NATO sends an extra 1,000 soldiers and Ottawa procures extra helicopters and unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles.
Canada is unhappy that a handful of nations are doing most of the fighting against Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan while other NATO members will station their soldiers only in safer parts of the country.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Rob Wilson