Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Monday, 26 May 2008 17:16 UK

Italy set for wider Afghan role

Italian troops in Afghanistan
Italian troops believe they are having successes

Italy is willing to send its troops based in western Afghanistan to more dangerous areas of the country if requested by Nato, ministers say.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy was aiming to be able to move its forces faster and to a wider area.

However, there are no plans to redeploy them on a more permanent basis.

It was also reported that Italy would actually reduce the size of its contingent later in the year, to about 2,000 troops.

"Our intention is to make a decrease in September of between 250 and 300," Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa told reporters at an EU meeting, according to Reuters news agency.

Italian troops are based in western Afghanistan, which is not as volatile as the south, where Britain, Canada and the Netherlands are engaged in an intense fight against the Taleban.

Things are going quite well here because our patrols, our men are spending a lot of time on the ground
Captain Mario Renna

Nato has urged other members to increase their contribution to the force, and to volunteer for service in the south, but no nations have come forward.

Asked whether Italian troops could now be sent to the south, Mr Frattini said: "That will depend on the demands that are made of us."

The BBC's Alistair Leithead, accompanying Italian troops in Sarobi, east of Kabul, says the Italians believe their approach of engaging with the local community is paying dividends.

But he also says the Italians are operating in a relatively safe area, where they are keeping the peace, rather than trying to create a stable environment from lawlessness and chaos, as others are attempting in Helmand and Kandahar in the south.

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