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Italy backs Obama Afghan plan

Berlusconi says country ready "to do its part"

02 December, 16:57
Italy backs Obama Afghan plan (ANSA) - Rome, December 2 - Italy "will do its part" in US President Barack Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi confirmed on Wednesday.

Italy will bolster its role and presence in the allied effort there, the premier explained, "because our own security is at stake in this fight against terrorism".

"Over these past days we have had close consultations with the US on Afghanistan. And I, personally, discussed it with President Obama last week," Berlusconi said in a statement issued by his office.

"I agree with the strategy announced last night: a regional approach, in which Pakistan will play a key role; a reinforcement of civilian activities that will protect the progress made in many sectors; and an additional military effort which will make disengagement easier in the future," the premier said.

"Italy will do its part, well aware that in the conflict in Afghanistan what is at stake is not only the future of the Afghan people, but also the credibility of NATO, the battle against terrorism and, as a result, our own security," the premier's statement concluded.

Obama's new strategy, illustrated Tuesday night,involves boosting US troops in Afghanistan by 30,000 with NATO allies expected to add an additional 5,000-7,000 men.

The president made it clear the new commitment was not "open-ended" and that Afghan forces had to assume a sufficient load of their own security to allow allied disengagement to begin in mid-2011. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Wednesday also confirmed Italy's readiness to send more troops to Afghanistan but said it was too early to put an exact number on the increase.

Well-informed sources say the US wants Rome to send in an additional 1,500 troops to the some 2,800 it already has in Afghanistan.

''Italy will make its contribution and we hope the other allies will do as much as we do...however, we have seen some uncertainty on France's part, while Germany has decided to postpone any decision and Britain has made what appears to be a minimum commitment,'' Frattini said. The Italian foreign minister said he agreed with Obama on the need to disengage from Afghanistan ''little by little as that nation shows it can take care of its own security. But this cannot take forever, by 2013 at the latest''.

On Tuesday, Frattini had already all but confirmed Italy would send in more troops and said ''Afghanistan is a test case of the Atlantic Alliance's credibility. It is evident that Italy will have to finish the job it began with NATO and contribute even more than it has in the past''.

Last week, Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa indicated that the additional troops for Afghanistan would be found by downsizing Italy's presence in missions in Kosovo and Lebanon, thus keeping the total number of forces employed abroad at the same level.

FRATTINI TO CONFER WITH HOLBROOKE AND CLINTON.

In a related development, the special US representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, planned to confer with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on the sidelines of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday.

''For certain I will speak with Frattini. Italy is a great partner and we have a high regard for its contribution'' in Afghanistan, he told the press.

During his meeting with Frattini, as well as those with the other European foreign ministers whose countries have troops in Afghanistan, Holbrooke will to be joined by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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