PARIS – France may contribute "several hundred" more troops to reinforce the fight against the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies in Afghanistan, the prime minister told parliament Tuesday.
Francois Fillon, speaking at the National Assembly amid domestic opposition to a bigger French deployment, said NATO and its allies must stop Afghanistan from again becoming a hub of international terrorism.
It was the first time a senior French official publicly gave a figure for France's plans to boost its forces in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan plays a large part "in our security, and thus our freedom," Fillon said. "The deployment could be of the order of several hundred extra soldiers."
Fillon did not say what the new forces would be. But he said that French forces in Afghanistan could be called upon to get more involved in command operations, training the Afghan army, and security and reconstruction efforts in the provinces. He did not specify where.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has said France would increase its participation beyond its 2,200 troops in the region, without specifying how many or where they would be deployed.
News reports in France and Britain, where Sarkozy went for a state visit last week, have said his plan would add some 1,000 reinforcements for NATO in Afghanistan.
The opposition Socialist Party opposes the reinforced deployment, with some lawmakers warning that France risks being ensnared in a "new Vietnam."
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the party's leader in the assembly, said the plan to boost troop levels has "little to do with Afghanistan" and more with Sarkozy's "Atlantic obsession" — closer ties with the United States.