France unwilling to send more troops to Afghanistan

PARIS Wed Jan 21, 2009 12:07pm GMT

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PARIS (Reuters) - France will reject any immediate request by U.S. President Barack Obama for reinforcements to Afghanistan because it has already deployed enough troops, French Defence Minister Herve Morin said on Wednesday.

While many European leaders have welcomed Obama's multilateral approach to diplomacy, they are less eager to send their soldiers on risky missions that are unpopular with voters.

Asked in a radio interview how France would react if Obama were to call for more contributions to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Morin pointed out that his country already sent additional troops in 2007 and 2008.

"So for France, we have made the necessary effort. Considering additional reinforcements is out of the question for now," he told broadcaster Europe 1.

He also said France was likely to reduce the number of troops it is deploying in Africa.

France has about 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, making it the fourth-largest contributor to foreign forces fighting the Taliban, after the United States, Britain and Germany.

Obama has pledged to send more U.S. forces to tackle the worsening insurgency in Afghanistan, but his European allies have been reluctant to join him.

On Tuesday, a Harris poll for the Financial Times showed most voters in Britain, France, Germany and Italy believed their governments should resist any call for more troops by Obama.

France's government has broadly supported the mission. It announced at a NATO summit in Bucharest last year that it would send 700 troops to eastern Afghanistan, and Morin described the war as "just" and "indispensable" in a speech on Monday.

"Indispensable for the Afghans, who have the right to finally know peace. Indispensable for the French themselves, because their security hangs in great part on that region, one of the most instable in the world," he said in his speech.

(Reporting by Sophie Hardach and Francois Murphy)

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