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Sweden looks to boost Afghanistan force

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Sweden looks to boost Afghanistan force
07:23 CEST+02:00
Sweden wants to send more troops to Afghanistan after an assessment by the Armed Forces concluded that the current force of 500 soldiers is too small.

The Swedish military wants instead to boost the number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan to 630 by 2011, according to Sveriges Television (SVT).

In addition, the government wants to send a rescue helicopter as well as several more Hercules transport planes to Afghanistan.

The plans, which also call for expanding Sweden’s intelligence operations in the country, are to be detailed in a bill scheduled for presentation later this autumn.

According to Sweden’s defence minister Sten Tolgfors, the Armed Forces’ proposed troop increase is one of several proposals which serve as the basis for the bill.

However, Tolgfors refused to offer an opinion on the pending legislation.

“What I think will be made clear when we present the bill. I’ve said previously that we must always be open to shaping our contributions in a way that meets the challenges on the ground,” Tolgfors told the TT news agency.

The government and the Social Democrats came to an agreement last autumn that the Swedish force in Afghanistan should be increased to 500 people.

The total number of personnel involved is actually 855, but that includes staff ready to assist with a possible evacuation of the troops from Afghanistan.

According to the defence ministry, the expansion of Sweden’s force from 435 to 500 soldiers is ongoing, in accordance with last autumn’s bill.

Discussions of a further increase, however, are not currently taking place.

The news of Sweden’s desire to increase its military presence in Afghanistan comes on the same day that EU defence ministers meeting in Gothenburg agreed that EU nations will wait for results of Afghanistan's elections and for a US decision on strategy there before looking at possible troop reinforcements.

"The position now is to wait and see how the results of the elections come out. They will be known the 5th or the 7th of October," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters on Tuesday.

"That will be the moment to analyze the situation," he said, on the margins of a meeting of the EU defence ministers meeting, with the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan high on the agenda.

The meeting comes after the top NATO commander in Afghanistan called for a major change in strategy to combat the Taliban and their allies in Al-Qaeda and criminal gangs, as well as the troops and resources to fulfill it.

Were any new strategy to succeed in Afghanistan it would rely heavily on support from the new government, and even US officials concede that no firm decision on the way ahead can be made before the results are finalized.

"This is a debate that must be first held in the United States, before we begin speaking about it at NATO," said German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung, recalling that Germany's contribution is capped at 4,500 troops.

He underlined that any future efforts must involve civilians as much as troops.

French General Henri Bentegeat -- the head of the European Union's military committee grouping the 27-nation bloc's top brass -- said that "a margin does exist of course" to send more troops.

"But it's a question of political willingness," he cautioned.

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