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Europe

EU to Double Afghan Police Efforts as Italy Reconsiders Caveats

The European Union agreed Monday, May 26 to double the size of its police training mission in Afghanistan, while Italy signalled it could briefly redeploy its troops to more dangerous zones if asked by NATO.

Afghan policemen swear in during a graduation ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan,

The EU will work twice as hard to get more Afghan police out on the streets

"The EU General Affairs and External Relations Council has decided the EU should double the number of participants in the EUPOL mission in Afghanistan," said a statement from the Slovenian presidency of the bloc. "This measure will strengthen efforts towards police reform," it added.

Launched in June 2007 and expected to last for at least three years, the EUPOL mission consists of about 200 experts tasked with training Afghan policemen and officials at the interior ministry.

Their numbers are now expected to rise to about 400 over the next 12 months, diplomats said.

"We want the Afghan government to be able to take care of security themselves," said German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung, whose country was strongly behind the initiative.

Italy considering sending troops to danger zones

New Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini

Frattini said ISAF requests would determine Italy's plans

Separately, new Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said his government was ready to drop some of its caveats and deploy its troops to more dangerous battle zones, as requested by NATO.

"We are talking about greater geographical flexibility," Frattini said. "We want to align Italy to its other great NATO partners."

Italy currently has about 2,360 soldiers in Afghanistan. But they are mainly deployed in Kabul and in the less restive west of the country.

The previous centre-left government of Romano Prodi refused to give in to US requests for the troops to be sent to southern hotspots, where NATO is fighting Taliban insurgents.

Germany has maintained a similar position, thus infuriating the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, which have suffered significant casualties around the Kandahar region.

New direction for Italian leadership

Frattini did not rule out sending troops to the south, saying redeployment would depend on the requests made by NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

But with a political storm brewing back home, Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa later clarified that such redeployments would be "temporary" rather than permanent.

"We are not against, should the need arise, temporary interventions aimed at lending a hand to those facing greater difficulties than ours," he said.

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