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'4,000 Italians in Afghanistan'

Extra 1,000 troops plus 200 Carabinieri says Frattini

04 December, 11:51
'4,000 Italians in Afghanistan' (ANSA) - Brussels, December 4 - Italy will have almost 4,000 forces in Afghanistan by the end of next year, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told NATO counterparts here Friday.

As well as the 1,000 extra troops announced Thursday night, he said, there would be some 200 Carabinieri to help train Afghan security forces.

The Italian contingent is currently 2,795, according to the most recent data.

Frattini had "cordial" informal talks with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the foreign ministers met, in which she thanked Italy again for its contribution to the "surge" decided by President Barack Obama, diplomatic sources said.

The US is hoping its allies will contribute some 10,000 more troops following Obama's decision to add 33,000 to its 68,000.

So far, commitments from countries including Britain, Portugal, Spain, Georgia, Poland and South Korea add up to about half that.

The Netherlands and Canada are pulling out in 2010 and 2011 respectively, while Germany has put off its decision until January and France has said No to more troops.

"We're counting on you," Clinton told Frattini before the ministers' session, and the Italian foreign minister replied "now we must convince the others".

In his address to the NATO meeting, Frattini said Italy would by the end of 2010 have "around 4,000 troops" in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which currently has some 20,000 troops.

He appealed to America's allies to commit more troops, saying "we cannot unload the burden in Afghanistan onto the US alone".

Frattini reaffirmed the need for what he called a "civilian surge" and said Italy would consider doubling its contribution to the Afghan reconstruction budget.

The diplomatic chief also stressed the importance of NATO getting its message across to Afghans via NATO TV.

Both Frattini and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi have said the extra push in Afghanistan must be part of a "transition strategy" aimed at equipping the country to look after its own needs, and not an exit strategy that might encourage the Taliban.

The extra 1,000 troops will be taken from other foreign missions, in the Balkans and Lebanon, and the beefed-up mission, which must still be approved by parliament, is expected to last until the end of 2013.

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