Australia considering NATO request to send more troops to Afghanistan

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday he is considering a NATO request for more troops in Afghanistan, as U.S. President Donald Trump considers whether to expand the NATO-led mission there by several thousand.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tours the Australian Federal Police (AFP) Majura Forensics Facility in Canberra, Australia, May 8, 2017. AAP/Mick Tsikas/via REUTERS

Turnbull did not specify the details of the request from NATO’s military authorities, which he received during a visit to Afghanistan late last month, although he said he was “open” to the idea.

“We are certainly open to increasing our work there, but we’ve obviously got to look at the commitments of the Australian Defense Force in other parts of the region and indeed in other parts of the world,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

“It is very important that we continue - we and our other allies in the effort in Afghanistan - continue to work together,” he said.

Australia currently has nearly 300 troops stationed in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan forces.

The top U.S. intelligence official said on Thursday security in Afghanistan would deteriorate even further without a modest increase in troops from the United States and its allies for the NATO-led force.

Afghan forces being trained by their NATO allies have only tenuous control in Afghanistan almost 16 years into the intractable war against the Taliban, the remnants of al Qaeda, Islamic State and other Islamist groups.

In February, U.S. General John Nicholson, commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan, told a Congressional hearing he needed several thousand more international troops to break a stalemate with the Taliban.

Reuters reported in late April that Trump’s administration was carrying out a review of Afghanistan and that conversations were revolving around sending between 3,000 and 5,000 more U.S. and coalition troops to Afghanistan.

U.S. and NATO allies have since been receiving requests for more troops to boost the Resolute Support mission, which currently stands at about 13,450 troops, including about 6,900 U.S. military personnel training and advising the Afghan armed forces to take over Afghanistan’s defense and security.

The United States also has about 1,500 more troops as part of a counter-terrorism unit that mainly targets the Islamic State militant group and remaining pockets of al Qaeda.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week the alliance was considering a request for more troops, although NATO member Germany ruled out sending more of its forces back to Afghanistan.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Paul Tait