Italian defence minister rules out troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

Italian defence minister Ignazio La Russa has said that Italy will not withdraw its soldiers from Afghanistan despite calls from some leftwing politicians for it to do so amid rising international troop casualties. He made the remarks in the aftermath of the death of an Italian soldier last week, AKI reported.

"I have tried to respect as much as possible points of view that are not represented in parliament - those calling for the withdrawal to troops which are in my view mistaken," La Russa said late on Monday.

He was speaking to journalists on his way to the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, before on Tuesday heading to Afghanistan to visit Italian troops stationed there.

La Russa was due to visit Italian troops stationed at a base located in the western Afghan city of Herat. The surrounding province of Herat and the other three western provinces of Farah, Ghor and Baghdis are under Italian command.

La Russa was then due to visit the town of Farah in southwestern Farah province, where more Italian troops are stationed.

On 14 July, Lance Corporal Alessandro Di Lisio, 25, was killed and three other Italian paratroopers injured while on patrol some 50 kilometres from Farah.

Italy currently has 3,250 troops in Afghanistan, the sixth largest deployment after the United States, Britain, Canada and Germany. It recently deployed 500 troops to the conflict-wracked country to boost security ahead of presidential elections due in August.

"One of the objectives of my visit to to verify the actual security conditions on the ground, that is to say our capacity and the possibility of increasing this," La Russa told journalists.

There are currently some 58,000 international troops from 42 nations stationed in Afghanistan. The United States has approved sending 68,000 troops to Afghanistan by the end of 2009, including 21,000 that were added this spring.

The US troop surge is aimed at curbing the increasingly violent insurgency being fought by an emboldened Taliban, and the US would like other nations to contribute more troops.

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