LONDON (AFP) â€” President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday that France will boost its military presence in Afghanistan, a move welcomed by his allies in Britain and the United States.
Sarkozy put no figure on the number of extra troops for NATO’s battle against Taliban insurgents — details may be confirmed next week at a NATO summit in Bucharest — but sources in Paris said it would be more than 1,000.
France currently has some 1,600 soldiers in the country, mainly in the relatively peaceful capital Kabul. It is unclear if the new French troops will deploy to the volatile south of the country, or other less dangerous areas.
The United States, Canada and Britain have long pressed their European NATO allies to stump up more forces in Afghanistan to face down the threat of a Taliban spring offensive in the violence-scarred country.
“France has proposed to its allies in the Atlantic alliance a coherent and comprehensive strategy to allow the Afghan people and their legitimate government to build peace,” Sarkozy said.
“If these proposals are accepted, France will propose at the Bucharest summit strengthening its military presence,” he added, in an address to both houses of Britain’s House of Parliament on the first day of a state visit.
Although widely expected, Sarkozy’s announcement was warmly welcomed in London and Washington. US national security adviser Stephen Hadley said: “Obviously that would be a very positive thing.”
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also welcomed Sarkozy’s pledge. “A stronger French contribution will be more than welcome,” he told AFP shortly after the address.
Sarkozy’s offer was welcomed in Thursday morning’s British press, with the Daily Telegraph writing that it “will have been music to the government’s ears.”
“Mr Sarkozy said the two countries were stronger when they stood with, rather than against, each other,” the paper’s editorial read.
Britain has some 7,800 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, and has long pushed for other countries to do more, particularly in the south, where British troops in Helmand Province have suffered increasing casualties.
A total of 89 British troops have died in the country since US-led forces ousted the Taliban shortly after 9/11, according to the Ministry of Defence.
Sarkozy told the British lawmakers that “together, our two countries are determined to remain committed, side-by-side with all our allies, in Afghanistan where a crucial phase is being played out.”
He did not elaborate on his new strategy in his address, but speaking to the BBC before arriving in Britain, Sarkozy said it meant putting more faith in the Afghans themselves, as military action could only be part of the solution.
Asked if France was planning to send more troops to Afghanistan, he replied: “It is a long-term commitment… If these conditions are fulfilled, why not go in with larger numbers?”
The April 2-4 NATO meeting in Bucharest is expected to see pledges of more troops from other countries in answer to calls for more assistance from the allies battling a resurgent Taliban in the south and east.
The hardline Islamist regime was ousted six years ago by a US-led invasion after it refused to give up Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born militant and chief suspect for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Sarkozy arrived in Britain with his new wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, and was greeted by Queen Elizabeth II, who bestowed and honorary knighthood upon him.