Czechs to cut troops in Iraq

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic plans to reduce the number of troops in Iraq next year from around 100 while increasing its military presence in Afghanistan, the Defense Ministry said on Monday.

“The government approved up to 100 people (in Iraq) for January 1 through June 30, and 20 people from July until December 2008,” Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanova said of the planned changes in the country’s Iraq mission.

The mid-year reduction is part of the NATO member’s foreign operations plan for 2008, approved by the cabinet earlier in the day.

The government also plans to expand the Czech military presence in Afghanistan, a ministry spokesman said, without giving details.

The news agency CTK said the mission there may grow by about 100 troops to as many as 335.

The Czech force in Afghanistan includes a field hospital with about 70 staff which will stay at Kabul airport. Most of the rest of the enlarged Czech unit will form a provincial reconstruction team in the southern Logar region, CTK reported.

The Czechs will also continue their mission in Kosovo, where they now have 440 troops.

The plan, covering all the country’s foreign military missions, must be approved by both houses of parliament.