MADRID – Spain will consider sending more troops to Afghanistan, the defense minister said Friday, a decision likely to be welcomed by President Barack Obama's administration.
The indication of willingness to send additional troops comes a day after Spanish soldiers killed 13 insurgents in western Afghanistan, a sign that conflict is widening in that region.
Spain has about 1,200 troops stationed in Afghanistan. About 450 of them were sent to provide security for last month's presidential elections and are supposed to return after the results are known.
"If the postelection security conditions require an increase in troops, I will go to Parliament and request it," Defense Minister Carme Chacon said in a television interview.
She gave no figure for how many troops she would request or if they would include the troops providing election security.
Chacon called Thursday's firefight in western Afghanistan one of the most serious incidents involving Spanish troops since they were sent there in 2002. Besides the 13 fatalities, three other insurgents were wounded, but no Spaniards were hurt, the Defense Ministry said.
A Spanish soldier was shot and wounded in the same area Wednesday.
Chacon has asked to appear in Parliament to discuss the Spanish presence in Afghanistan and the latest attacks.
Spanish troops were first sent to Afghanistan in 2002 by then prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, a conservative. The current Socialist premier, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has continued the deployment, insisting that unlike the Iraq invasion — which his Socialist party opposed — the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan has a U.N. mandate.
Late last year Spain's parliament lifted a 3,000-troop limit on how many soldiers the country can deploy overseas, although all deployments must be approved by the legislature.
A total of 87 Spaniards have died in connection with the Afghanistan mission, most of them in a plane crash in Turkey in May 2003 while returning home and in a helicopter crash in Aug. 2005.
There are over 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan — a record number — but generals in charge of the war say they would like to have many more troops to fight the growing Taliban-led insurgency.