Several EU nations have concerns about a French scheme to send European armed police into Afghanistan, officials admitted during a foreign ministers meeting in the Czech Republic on Friday.
France proposes armed EU police help boost Afghan security
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner launched the idea at an EU summit last week.
He made the case again at two days of talks with his European Union counterparts at Hluboka castle in the southern Czech Republic, which were winding up Saturday.
Kouchner himself recognised that several of his EU colleagues had reservations about the project of sending armed gendarmes to train Afghan police.
"They are absolutely right" to so, he said late Friday, stressing that questions remained about how the proposal would fit into the existing international efforts in Afghanistan.
"Should it be part of (the European police mission) EUPol or side-by-side? Should it be linked to NATO?"
The whole problem is to assure the gendarmes' own security, as Kouchner has said they would be working "on the ground, not in the schools," one European diplomat said Saturday.
That could involve support from the international force in Afghanistan run by NATO, while the EU would see such a force working in coordination with the existing European EUPol mission to train police, which is expected to number 400 officers by June, he said.
"There would have to be a mechanism between EU and NATO which would assure the EU's visibility," he added.
Fears of complications
Frattini, right, has concerns over Kouchner's plans
But Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, whose country already has gendarmes in Afghanistan and which could be asked to contribute to the mooted force, stressed the project would "complicate" things and that it was necessary to avoid initiatives that are not properly "coordinated".
His Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt underlined the difficulty in working out "how to coordinate (the force) with NATO and the European police mission," while remaining optimistic that a solution could be found.
Bildt said those problems could be resolved ahead of a NATO summit on the French-German border on April 3-4, where Afghanistan will be a central topic.
During the meeting on Friday, EU foreign ministers said they were ready to increase their civilian action in Afghanistan and economic aid for Pakistan, to support a new strategy by US President Barack Obama.
"We are always prepared to do more," said Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
EU backs Obama's new strategy
Obama vowed Friday to wipe out terrorists from Pakistani safe havens, warning that al Qaeda was plotting catastrophic new attacks, as he unveiled a sweeping new Afghan war strategy.
Obama launched a new Afghan war strategy Friday
As part of those plans, the president called on US allies to join a major new civilian effort to stabilize Afghanistan, and warned he would not turn a "blind eye" towards government corruption, which he said undermined faith in its leaders.
France was among those countries which welcomed the new US strategy, saying it was exactly what Paris had been seeking for months.
"We are pleased to see that the United States are putting the full strength of their efforts and involvement into a global strategy," said foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier. "This is exactly what France has been calling for over the last months."
French officials privately said Obama's strategy was not seen in Paris as a "major strategic shift."
"We are heading towards a doubling of Afghan security forces, which means the Afghans will be shouldering the burden of security," a French official said on condition of anonymity.
Europe agrees with Afghanistan, Pakistan view
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Obama's speech would "give concrete meaning to the idea that we are looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan together.., and that they want to balance the civilian and military aspects of their work."
The Taliban has huge support in areas of Pakistan
The EU has three non-military roles to play in the region, he told reporters. "In Afghanistan on the policing side and in Pakistan on the economic side and in both countries also putting in place democratic governance."
The new US strategy places stabilizing Pakistan at the centre of the reframed US approach for fighting an unfinished and bloody battle against Al-Qaeda, which Obama said was neglected during a US diversion to Iraq.
Pakistan's mountainous border region with Afghanistan is an Al-Qaeda haven.
Miliband said Obama's strategy would "strike a very strong chord with the Europeans," who also see a strong link between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Europe's own initiatives should be "integrated closely with the NATO operations, we certainly don't want more bureaucracy and new structures being created," he stressed.
The civilian and military efforts will be discussed at a NATO summit, Obama's first, on the French-German border on April 3-4.
The EU is already planning two fresh civil projects in Afghanistan.
It has agreed to send observers, if security permits, to observe local and presidential elections as well as increasing their police presence in Afganistan from 250 to 400 officers.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that more financial aid to Afghanistan would also be announced at a conference on Afghanistan in The Hague next Tuesday.
"We will certainly contribute to a civilian surge, having some more funds available," she said as she arrived, adding that she might announce an amount at The Hague.
The European Commission's current undertaking is 610 million euros ($811 million) for the 2007-2010 period.