France will send a battalion to eastern Afghanistan, freeing up US forces to move south and meeting terms set by Canada for keeping its troops in the country, a NATO spokesman said late on Wednesday.
The confirmation of the French move came at the end of the opening dinner of the NATO summit in Bucharest. "I can confirm that the French government has offered a substantial military contribution to Afghanistan," spokesman James Appathurai said.
"They have made that offer for the east of the country and the United States, building on that offer, has agreed to offer troops in the south," he added. This would meet a condition Canada set down before it would agree to extend its mission in Afghanistan to 2011, he added, which he said was "very welcome to all allies."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week told the British parliament that France would send extra troops to Afghanistan. Wednesday's statement at the Bucharest conference however, is the first confirmation that the move frees up enough US troops in the south to keep the Canadian deployment onboard.
Canada's parliament voted last month to extend its military mission in volatile southern Afghanistan to 2011 - but only if its allies sent reinforcements.
In an address to the British parliament last week, Sarkozy put no figure on the number of extra troops. France currently has about 1,600 soldiers in Afghanistan.
Canada has lost 80 soldiers in Afghanistan since Ottawa began its deployment there as part of the NATO-led mission to fight the Taliban in 2002.