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Italians 'to boost Afghan force'

By David Willey
BBC News, Venice

Italian soldiers in Afghanistan
About 2,000 Italian soldiers are already stationed in Afghanistan.

The Italian government has decided to increase its contribution to Nato forces in Afghanistan by 800 to 2,800 troops this year, the BBC has learnt.

The US administration of Barack Obama has told Italy it would like it, in common with other Nato members, to increase its Nato contribution.

The Italian cabinet, following a visit to Rome by the US supreme commander in the Middle East in December, agreed.

The Italians will continue to carry out police training and other tasks.

These include providing economic assistance to the civil population.

Italian public opinion has been strongly against increasing military commitments in the Middle East after more then 20 Italian paramilitary peacekeepers were killed by insurgents in Iraq two years ago.

Italy now contributes to a UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, but withdrew its 2,000-strong peacekeeping contingent from southern Iraq last year.

Now, the BBC has learnt that the cabinet has made a decision, and it will increase troops in Afghanistan during the coming months.

It is not clear under what rules of engagement they will operate.

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