WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will bolster its 1,600-strong contingent in Afghanistan with 400 more troops to help improve security in the leadup to an August election there, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Tuesday.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said recently the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan will need some 4,000 extra soldiers to secure Afghanistan’s presidential poll.
“We have taken today a decision to formally ask the president to increase our contingent by 400 soldiers,” Tusk told a news conference.
“It is related to the elections in Afghanistan and we are all aware the situation there will not be any easier over the weeks to come. Sending more troops is justified from the point of view of our own forces’ security there,” Tusk added.
Poland, NATO’s largest ex-communist member, had previously said it would not increase its forces in Afghanistan as it looks to make budget savings because of a sharp economic slowdown.
Poland’s Defense Ministry recently agreed to cut spending plans this year by 2 billion zlotys ($601.5 million), but Tusk said it could afford the 35.1 million zlotys needed for the troop reinforcements.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who as commander-in-chief must approve the additional deployments, has spoken in favor of increasing Poland’s engagement in Afghanistan and is widely expected to approve Tusk’s request.
The government also said in a statement it had put a further 200 troops on standby in Poland for possible rapid, short-term deployment in Afghanistan if required.
Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Gareth Jones