France mulls boosting training in Afghanistan

Tue Dec 1, 2009 1:45pm EST

(Updates with U.S. details, French diplomat comment)

PARIS, Dec 1 (Reuters) - France is considering boosting its presence in Afghanistan, possibly to train local security forces, in response to a request from U.S. President Barack Obama, the newspaper Le Monde said on Tuesday.

A senior French diplomat with NATO in Brussels later said France was still working out its precise contribution but could help with paramilitary police or supplies.

Obama plans to send about 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan over six months, and Pentagon officials hope other NATO members will supplement the surge with up to 10,000 more troops. [ID:nN30459822]

"We are not saying no to Obama," Le Monde quoted a source close to French President Nicolas Sarkozy as saying.

It said Obama would ask France for 1,500 more soldiers, although the senior diplomat later dismissed that figure as unrealistic.

The diplomat said France was still looking at its options in view of a planned international conference on Afghanistan to be held in London on Jan. 28.

"There are many ways of helping: gendarmes, equipment, civilian work," the diplomat said.

Le Monde said France was not considering sending more combat troops as it estimated that it had enough men in the areas where it was in charge, but could make other efforts.

"We are going to see how we could add to our operation if necessary, particularly in the area of training," the paper quoted the source as saying.

On Monday, French Defence Minister Herve Morin said there was "no question" of raising troop levels in Afghanistan. France has some 3,400 troops there and Sarkozy said on Monday it would keep them there for as long as necessary. [ID:nGEE5AT2KW]

Like all European troop contributors in Afghanistan, the French government is being squeezed between U.S. demands for more soldiers and mounting public opposition over mounting casualties.



GERMAN, BRITISH CONTRIBUTIONS

As a compromise, European allies have sought to increase their training and policing efforts while keeping combat troop levels stable.

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference with visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani that Germany would wait until after the conference in London on Afghanistan before deciding on any troop increases.

"After the conference ... Germany will decide whether, and if necessary, what additional efforts we can make. We hear the wishes of the United States but we will not decide in the coming days but after the conference."

Germany's lower house of parliament is expected this week to extend a mandate allowing Germany to send up to 4,500 troops to Afghanistan. It currently has some 4,250 soldiers there.

On Monday, Britain said it would send an extra 500 troops, which would boost its contingent in Afghanistan to 9,500.

In April, NATO leaders pledged to send 2,000 more personnel to train Afghan security forces. They also promised to deploy 300 paramilitary police trainers, following a French proposal. (Reporting by Sophie Hardach in Paris, Noah Barkin in Berlin and Julien Toyer in Brussels; Editing by Alison Williams) ((sophie.hardach@thomsonreuters.com; Paris Newsroom +33 1 4949 5188; Reuters Messaging: sophie.hardach.reuters.com@reuters.net))