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Italy to send 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan

December 3, 2009

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: December 3 2009

Italy is to send about 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan and reduce its peacekeeping forces in Kosovo and Lebanon by a similar number, Ignazio La Russa, Italian defence minister, said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday.

Italy had already signalled to the Obama administration that it would respond positively to its requests for reinforcements in Afghanistan, but Mr La Russa was the first minister to reveal how many.

He told newspaper Corriere della Sera that a report of Rome sending 1,500 extra troops was an exaggeration and that about 1,000 would be more accurate. Details would be ironed out in talks with Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, and the majority of soldiers would arrive in the second half of next year, he said.

Italy has about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, most based in the north-west.

Afghanistan is a divisive issue for Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition government, and an unpopular war among the Italian public. The Northern League, a junior partner in the government, called in September for all troops to be brought back by Christmas after six soldiers died in a Kabul ambush.

Mr La Russa said Italy would withdraw about 1,000 soldiers from Kosovo in 2010 and at least 200 from Lebanon where Italy heads the UN peacekeeping force.

Italy’s defence minister said the Afghan government had to wage a serious fight against corruption and opium cultivation. But he was also critical of the US and UK campaign to destroy poppy fields, saying this was mistaken and only produced more enemies.

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