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World News

French, Canadian foreign ministers in Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai met French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Saturday, days after France promised to send an extra 700 soldiers to help battle the Taliban.

Kouchner arrived from Tajikistan where he said on Friday that French troops operating in Afghanistan would number about 3,000.

Also in Kabul for talks with Karzai on Saturday was Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier of Canada, whose troops have been battling a resurgent Taliban in the Afghan south.

Afghanistan’s Western allies reiterated their long-term support for Afghanistan at a NATO summit this month but there has been tension within the alliance over troop contributions.

Canada has pledged to keep its troops in Afghanistan after the French promise of reinforcements. Canadian opposition parties and members of the public have been calling for the troops to be brought home.

NATO commands a 47,000-strong force in Afghanistan, about 19,000 of its troops from the United States and 7,750 from Britain. The United States leads a separate coalition force.

Kouchner and Bernier were due to hold a news conference with their Afghan counterpart later on Saturday.

French officials have said France’s reinforcements were conditional on a more unified overall strategy on issues including development, and on progressively handing over responsibility for security and other issues to Afghans.

France hosts a conference on June 12 aimed at raising funds for Afghanistan and reviewing that strategy. The conference would be the focus of Kouchner’s talks in Afghanistan, an official in Paris said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this month he believed Afghanistan’s fledgling army would by 2011 be able to take over leadership of military operations in the violent south where Canada’s troops have been fighting.

Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jerry Norton

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