Swedish forces to remain in Afghanistan

Swedish troops are set to extend their stay in Afghanistan to the end of 2010, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.

“Only with our continued presence can we take long-term action to help phase out military involvement in Afghanistan,” Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a statement.

He said Sweden “wants to help to ensure that responsibility for the country’s development can be transferred to the Afghan authorities in due course.”

There are close to 500 Swedish troops in Afghanistan, including teams involved in training the Afghan army.

In announcing the decision, the government cited the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, where Swedish troops have been involved in several fire fights in recent weeks.

In addition to extending military support in Afghanistan, Sweden also plans to increase development assistance to the country from the current 300 million kronor up to 500 million kronor within the next few years.

“Our combined efforts are different components of a policy for peace, democracy and development in Afghanistan and the surrounding region,” said Bildt.

“Extending Sweden’s military presence is currently an unavoidable part of this approach.”

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