Poland ready to increase troops in Afghanistan

WARSAW Wed Dec 2, 2009 10:58am EST

WARSAW (Reuters) - The Polish government aims to increase the number of its troops in Afghanistan by 600 to 2,600 by next April, Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said on Wednesday after U.S. President Barack Obama's appeal to NATO allies.

Confirming earlier reports, Klich said a formal decision on bolstering its contingent in Afghanistan would come early in 2010. The move requires the approval of President Lech Kaczynski, who is a strong supporter of the Afghan mission.

"As of the beginning of the seventh turn of duty of our troops (in April) we could have 2,600 soldiers in Afghanistan," Klich told a news conference.

Poland may also double the number of troops on standby in Poland for possible temporary deployment to Afghanistan to 400, Klich added.

As in many other countries, Poland's center-right government faces growing public opposition to involvement in Afghanistan. A recent opinion poll showed 76 percent of Poles -- traditionally pro-NATO and pro-U.S. -- wanted Polish troops to come home.

Klich stressed the need to show solidarity with the United States, which announced on Tuesday it was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in a surge expected to begin in two to three weeks' time and to last up to 24 months.

"We have to remember Poland first deployed troops to Afghanistan after Washington invoked article 5 of the NATO treaty (following the 9/11 attacks). Now we have to act as we would like our allies to act when we are in trouble," he said.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, writing by Gareth Jones; editing by Robin Pomeroy)