BUCHAREST, Romania – French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed Thursday that France will send a battalion and special forces to Afghanistan to join the NATO mission there.
The reinforcements are expected to total up to 1,000 troops. Their deployment averts the threat of a crisis in the NATO force triggered by Canada's threat to pull its troops out of the dangerous Kandahar province unless they get 1,000 reinforcements from another ally.
France's combat troops are expected to move into eastern Afghanistan, freeing up U.S. forces to help the Canadians in the south.
Sarkozy has also told the NATO summit that he will decide next year on France's return to the alliance's integrated military command, over four decades since Gen. Charles de Gaulle pulled out.
Both moves are a sign of Sarkozy's policy of drawing closer to the U.S.-led NATO alliance, although his speech also stressed France's desire to build up the defense role of the European Union.
"We the French want to strengthen our Euro-Atlantic community because it is built on shared values, democratic principles, human rights," Sarkozy said.
The deployment in Afghanistan follows months of lobbying by the United States to persuade European allies to send more troops to the frontlines of the fight against the Taliban.
"Afghanistan is a strategic issue for international security. It's central issue for relations between Islam and the West," Sarkozy said. "It's essential for the alliance."
France currently has 1,430 troops serving as part of the 47,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan.