Italy ready to boost Afghanistan forces

Italy is ready to increase the size of its forces in Afghanistan by around 500 to nearly 3,000 troops, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Wednesday.

“There are now about 2,300 Italian soldiers in Afghanistan. We are ready to increase that number up to 2,800, so the total number towards the end of April will be around 2,800,” Mr. Frattini told a news conference in Kabul.”

He said Italy was also considering whether to send an additional force of between 200 an 250 troops to help secure Afghan presidential elections on Aug. 20.

As this year’s president of the Group of Eight, Italy wants to call a meeting of the G8, plus regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates, India, China and Turkey to find a regional solution to the conflict.

Italy also wants to involve Iran, which shares a border with Afghanistan..

“Italy is considering how to involve Iran, not whether to involve Iran,” Mr. Frattini said.

Italy’s announcement came a day after U.S. President Barack Obama ordered 17,000 more troops deployed to battle Taliban insurgents.

Mr. Obama, in his first major military decision as commander-in-chief, said the troop increase was “necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan”, but warned military means alone would not solve the problem.

The reinforcements will take U.S. troop numbers to around 55,000, in addition to the 30,000 troops from 40 other mostly NATO countries already operating in Afghanistan.

The United States will pressure its allies to also send more troops at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Poland this week, but many European countries are wary of getting bogged down in Afghanistan and reluctant to let their troops engage in combat and take casualties due to domestic opposition to the war.