PARIS (Reuters) - France may send a few hundred additional troops to Afghanistan to help NATO allies fight the Taliban and train the Afghan army, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Tuesday.
France already has some 1,500 troops based in Afghanistan serving as part of a 47,000-strong NATO force and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to announce later this week that the contingent will be reinforced.
“Our armed forces in Afghanistan may invest more in the command structures, particularly in Kabul, in training the Afghan army and in the units in the Afghan provinces,” Fillon said during a parliamentary debate on the Afghan operation.
“The numbers could be something like a few hundred extra soldiers,” he said, adding that France’s contribution had not been finalized and depended on its NATO allies accepting a broader strategy for Afghanistan.
The parliamentary debate was called by the opposition Socialists who have attacked Sarkozy for planning to bolster the French force just a year after he indicated that he did not see any future for France’s contingent in Afghanistan.
A BVA opinion poll published on Monday said 68 percent of French people disapproved of any strengthening of the French operation while just 15 percent approved.
The Socialists said they intended to submit a motion of no confidence against the government “in the coming days” for refusing to hold a vote on the Afghan deployment in the lower house of parliament.
Fillon said there was no need for a parliamentary vote because French soldiers were already present in Afghanistan, adding that sending more troops would increase the chances of bringing peace to the country.
France’s constitution gives the president the power to send soldiers to combat zones without parliamentary approval.
NATO powers will meet in the Romanian capital from April 2 to 4 and Afghanistan is expected to be a main issue.
The United States and Britain have repeatedly called on NATO allies in recent months to boost their contribution to the force in Afghanistan, where there are signs that the Taliban militancy is growing in strength.
Reporting by Francois Murphy, editing by Crispian Balmer