Finland to double troops in Afghanistan

February 23rd, 2009 - 10:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Feb 23 (DPA) Finland is to double the number of its troops in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan to some 200 in time for elections Aug 20, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said Monday as his European Union (EU) colleagues discussed a police-training mission there.
“We will double our presence from about 100 to 200 for the elections, and in that sense I hope that we have responded to the requests (for more troops) that have come from the United States,” Stubb told journalists in Brussels.

At the regular meeting, EU foreign ministers were set to discuss the 27-member bloc’s role in stabilizing Afghanistan at a time when the new US government has called on European members of NATO to boost their commitments in the country.

The majority of Europe’s involvement in Afghanistan is carried out under the banner of NATO. Just under half the troops serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are European.

But deep divisions remain between countries such as Britain and Denmark, who have committed large numbers of troops to the combat zones, and those such as Germany and Italy, which are reluctant to follow suit.

“We are not talking about more troops, we are talking about implementing a comprehensive strategy, because military commitment is not enough,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

“We need political engagement, rule of law, we need stabilization at the border region, and so we need much more than only military commitment,” he said.

Germany and Italy were among the countries who announced the deployment of additional troops for the August 20 presidential elections at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Krakow last week.

The EU’s main contribution to Afghanistan has been to set up a team to train the country’s fledgling police force. But the team, which is mandated to have up to 400 police and justice experts, currently has just 177 international staff, according to EU figures.

Thursday the UN’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said that he was disappointed over the slow pace of deployment.

The EU has also pledged 8 billion euros ($10 billion) in reconstruction aid for the period 2001-10.

Neutral Finland, which is not a NATO member, currently has 110 troops in ISAF, which operates under UN mandate.

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