More Swedish troops and aid to Afghanistan

More Swedish troops and aid to Afghanistan
Sweden announced on Thursday it plans to increase aid to Afghanistan as well as send an additional 110 soldiers there, bringing the size of its force to about 500 troops in 2009.

A proposal to be presented to parliament in mid-December will also ask deputies to allow Sweden to send a maximum of 855 peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan to take part in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) by the end of December 2009.

The current limit set by parliament is 600 troops.

Sweden will bolster its military contingent in 2009 with transport planes, medical helicopters, and training and liaison troops, the government said.

Most of the troops will be stationed in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, where the Swedes are based.

“Sweden’s participation in ISAF is a long-term commitment. The government’s position is that Sweden shall continue to lead the regional unit for security and reconstruction in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan,” Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a statement.

“An important part is strengthening our efforts to train and support the Afghan army, so that it can eventually handle the threats from groups hostile to the government on its own,” he said.

The government said it had also decided to ask the state aid agency SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) to develop a new strategy for Afghanistan for the period July 2009 to December 2013.

Among other things, it will successively increase its annual aid from the 355 million kronor ($44 million) earmarked for 2008 to 500 million in 2011.