Italy called on its European partners to send more soldiers to back the U.S.-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, while declining to boost its own forces there, reported Bloomberg.
``We have a number of countries that have soldiers in Afghanistan; this is not enough,'' Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said last night in a television interview in Rome. ``If Europe wants to become a real producer of security instead of just a consumer of the U.S., we will have to do more.''
President-elect Barack Obama is seeking to scale back the U.S. military presence in Iraq and muster more forces for the Afghan war effort seven years after the U.S. drove the Taliban movement from power. Obama said he plans to send an additional two brigades, or about 7,000 soldiers, to counter an increase in violence this year and wants European allies to send more forces.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 72, has been one of President George W. Bush's staunchest European allies, sending troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq in support of U.S.-led wars in the two countries.
Italy's Iraq forces were withdrawn in 2006 by former Prime Minster Romano Prodi, whose government collapsed in January. Italy still has about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led mission there and Frattini said Italy doesn't plan to increase its presence.
``I don't think it's up to Italy, because Italy is Europe's third-biggest contributor to the mission,'' he said. ``We intend to continue to contribute to training, but there are countries in Europe that don't contribute at all.''
Berlusconi allowed Italian troops to be deployed in the more volatile regions of Afghanistan during emergency combat situations, though he resisted pressure from Bush to increase their numbers or move their bases to less stable regions.
The U.K. has about 8,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, making it the second-biggest force behind the 31,000 American troops there. Germany continues to restrict its 3,200 troops to the comparatively calm north.
U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday said any increase in Britain's forces to the NATO mission would depend on greater contributions from its allies.
``Burden sharing means that other countries have got to play their part,'' Brown said at a press conference in London today. ``We're the second largest force in Afghanistan. There are 41 countries part of the coalition. There ought to be fair burden sharing.''
The U.K. also has more than 4,000 troops in Iraq.