ROME – The lower house of the Italian parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the deployment of 2,700 troops to the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.
Italy joins four other European countries — Britain, France, Germany, and Spain — that have committed military forces to the coalition. So far, Britain is the only one to join the United States in airstrikes.
Other countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Turkey have contributed or pledged forces, if needed, to the campaign. Japan is drawing up plans that could include warships and personnel, taking advantage of a new law allowing non-combat support for the U.S.-led strikes in Afghanistan.
Speaking to lawmakers before the vote, Premier Silvio Berlusconi urged a show of "national unity by all forces inspired by the constitutional ideals of freedom and peace."
Heeding that call, the lower house approved the deployment 513-35 in a rare show of bipartisanship. Two deputies abstained. The Senate was expected to approve the deployment later Wednesday.
Italy's contingent will include naval, air and ground components, Defense Minister Antonio Martino said.
The naval component will consist of an aircraft carrier equipped with eight fighter jets, two frigates and a supply vessel that would be deployed in the Persian Gulf. Up to 1,000 ground troops would be deployed later, Martino said.
He said there were no immediate plans to send ground troops to Afghanistan but that they could be deployed there "in a subsequent phase as part of military escort and humanitarian aid."
Germany also said it has no immediate plans to send ground troops to Afghanistan or participate in airstrikes.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Cabinet on Wednesday approved sending up to 3,900 troops into the war on terrorism, a bold step for a nation that long avoided foreign military engagements after World War II. Parliament must still back the proposal. A vote is expected as early as next week.
Schroeder announced Tuesday that Germany would offer armored vehicles equipped to detect nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; about 100 special forces; a medical evacuation unit; air transport and naval forces to protect shipping lanes.
France already has contributed about 2,000 military personnel — naval, air force and intelligence — and is considering a U.S. request for additional military assistance, President Jacques Chirac said Tuesday.
France has intelligence agents operating on the ground in Afghanistan to help define targets, and is conducting intelligence operations by air and sea with a surveillance ship and at least one spy plane. It also has positioned two vessels in the region for logistical support.
The United States requested military help as part of the international coalition against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Turkey, a NATO member, is the only Muslim country to contribute troops so far. Despite polls showing most Turks opposed, the government announced last week it would send 90 special forces to the effort in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, 111 mostly opposition lawmakers petitioned the Constitutional Court to void parliament's authorization of the deployment.