Spain Prepared to Boost Troops in Afghanistan

Spain is prepared to boost its long-term troop presence in Afghanistan if conditions there require it, a Spanish official said Thursday.

A government spokesman speaking on customary condition of anonymity said Spain's permanent presence could be elevated from 780 troops to 1,000 after elections in August.

An additional 450 peacekeeping troops are temporarily in Afghanistan to ensure secure elections. Those troops are due to return to Spain, but the spokesman said that 220 soldiers could then be deployed to Afghanistan to bolster the permanent service should the Spanish parliament approve the increase.

Defense Minister Carme Chacon made the same commitment while on a surprise visit to Kabul on Monday. "Should security require it, I'll be the first to go to parliament to ask for a reinforcement," Chacon said shortly after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Spanish troops were first sent to Afghanistan in 2002 by then prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, a conservative.

Zapatero has continued the deployment, insisting that unlike the Iraq invasion — which his Socialist party opposed — the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan has greater legality and an international mandate.

Late last year Spain's parliament approved lifting a limit on how many troops the country can deploy overseas from 3,000 to a level that parliament can determine. This cleared the way for a possible increase in the country's Afghanistan mission.

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.