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France may send troops to Afghanistan

France is willing to send its troops to Afghanistan's violence-plagued south and east if reinforcements are requested in those regions.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2006 16:18 IST

France is willing to send its troops to Afghanistan's violence-plagued south and east if reinforcements are requested in those regions, the French defense minister said on Monday.

NATO allies agreed last month to rush to one another's aid anywhere in Afghanistan in emergencies.

Key alliance nations including France, Germany, Italy and Spain have refused to regularly send troops to fight alongside the British, Canadian, Dutch and US forces on the front lines of battles with the resurgent Taliban in the restive south and east.

French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie — on her ninth trip to Afghanistan -- said that "our forces in Kabul will be able to go to other regions at the request of our allies to help in a situation that necessitates it."

French troops would not be sent permanently to the south or the east, but could be sent as "temporary reinforcements" to assist allied forces in combat situations, Alliot-Marie told a news conference in Kabul.

She made her comments a day after announcing that France would withdraw its 200-strong special forces from the eastern city of Jalalabad — all of its ground troops engaged in the US anti-terror operation code-named Enduring Freedom.

The 1,100 French troops engaged in the separate NATO-led International Security Assistance Force will remain in Afghanistan, Capt Sebastien Caron, the Defence Ministry press officer, said on Sunday in Paris.

The French troops are currently in charge of the sector based in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Except for its elite troops in Jalalabad, France had balked at engaging its soldiers outside Kabul.

The decision to pull the elite troops out of Enduring Freedom comes amid mounting violence in Afghanistan, where the Taliban militia are working to return to the fore despite the strong engagement — some 32,800 troops — in NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Taliban militants have carried out more than 100 suicide bombings in the country this year — a more than fivefold increase from 2005 — often targeting NATO forces.

About 4,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence in 2006.