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Italy 'to send 1,000 extra troops' to Afghanistan

Italian Nato troops in Herat, Afghanistan (8 Nov 2009)
There are 3,200 Italian personnel already serving in Afghanistan

Italy is to send about 1,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, say reports.

The move comes two days after US President Barack Obama announced that America was sending 30,000 more forces to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban.

Mr Obama has asked Nato allies to increase their deployments in Afghanistan, but several European nations are reluctant to do so.

The alliance's foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels for two days of talks set to focus on the US request.

In an interview published on Thursday, Italy's Defence Minister, Ignazio La Russa, confirmed reports that Rome would send about 1,000 extra soldiers to the country.

Mr La Russa told the Corriere della Sera newspaper suggestions in the media that 1,500 soldiers could be sent were "just a hypothesis".

He said the figure was "a maximum quota which we would never reach", reported Reuters news agency.

Italy currently has 3,200 soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the conflict was a test of Nato's "credibility" and that it was "clear that Italy must finish the job started with Nato".

Sceptical

America has asked for 10,000 more forces from Nato allies to help win a war that has in recent months turned increasingly bloody.

Failure in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban takeover of much, if not most, of the country and likely a renewed civil war
Robert Gates

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said other Nato countries will provide at least 5,000 extra personnel, and "probably a few thousand on top of that".

But the full extent of additional resources coming from Nato allies remains unclear.

As well as Italy, Britain, Georgia, Poland and Slovakia have all pledged more soldiers but other nations such as France, Germany and Denmark are being more cautious.

It is expected that further countries will declare their intentions over the next two days but just how many is still not clear, reports BBC defence and security correspondent Nick Childs from Brussels.

Many Nato governments face publics even more sceptical about the mission than those of the US and Britain.

A senior US official has said this is a process that is going to take days and weeks.

But Nato officials believe that, at the end of it, some 20 countries will end up pledging extra resources, our correspondent says.

'No guarantees'

The 30,000 additional service personnel will take the US military presence in Afghanistan to over 100,000.

MARDELL'S AMERICA
Mark Mardell
Mr Obama's top team have been on Capitol Hill trying to convince the serious and senior elected politicians that this is the right strategy

Top White House officials spent much of Wednesday bolstering domestic support for the surge.

Joint Chiefs of Staff head Adm Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all addressed congressional committees on the issue.

"This is a huge commitment. It's the right commitment. And it gives us the forces to turn this thing around," Adm Mullen said.

He said that while there were no guarantees, he expected to "make significant headway in the next 18-24 months".

Mr Gates warned that failure to act "would mean a Taliban takeover of much, if not most, of the country" and the creation of a sanctuary for al-Qaeda militants.

But senior Republican John McCain warned that although the strategy would succeed, US and UK troop casualties would rise in the short term, and he criticised Mr Obama's target date for withdrawal.

"We need to make it clear to the enemy that we're going to succeed and we are going to stay as long as necessary to succeed," he said.

It is also emerging that some of those 5,000 extra non-US troops will not be entirely new - they will be forces that were sent out temporarily to support the Afghan elections that will now be staying on.



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Bangkok Post US commander eyes success in Afghan surge - 33 mins ago
Reuters Africa Italy to send 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan - 7 hrs ago
Cape TimesAllies back Obama, but hesitate to send more troops - 7 hrs ago
The Sun Where the hell are EU? - 16 hrs ago
The Scotsman Nato allies urged to do their bit and bolster Barack Obama surge - 18 hrs ago
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