France to send 200 more troops to Afghanistan - defense ministry

( RIA Novosti ) - France will deploy 200 more troops in Afghanistan, the French defense minister said Friday after his meeting with the president of Tajikistan, an ex-Soviet republic bordering on Afghanistan.

Since 2001, 1,000 French troops have been based in war-torn Afghanistan as part of the international coalition force.

Herve Morin said after talks with President Emomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, that with the new military personnel "the number of French troops in Afghanistan will reach 1,200. We are sending signal officers and military advisers, who will help Afghanistan train its army."

Morin also said that France planned to redeploy six Mirage fighters from Dushanbe to Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, as a temporary measure to ensure "better operational efficiency," as missions take longer from the Dushanbe airbase.

Three French fighters are being sent to Afghanistan in late September, and another three will follow in mid-October accompanied by 150 engineers and air crews. The French Defense Ministry said the aircraft would be used to patrol southern Afghanistan.

French air force personnel have been deployed in Tajikistan since December 2001, providing air support to NATO ground troops in Afghanistan. Six Mirage fighters, three military transport aircraft, and some 450 French troops are currently based in Dushanbe.

The French minister said the units deployed in Tajikistan's capital were of great strategic and military importance for France, and will remain in place unless "asked by the government" to leave.

Morin and Rakhmonov also discussed the current situation in Afghanistan, and anti-drug trafficking measures, with both parties agreeing that an alternative crop to the poppy was needed to stop drug production increasing. Tajikistan is a major transit route for illegal drugs from Afghanistan, which produces around 90% of the world's heroin.

The French defense minister also met air force personnel and engineers involved in reconstructing the Dushanbe airfield, before leaving for the Afghan capital Kabul.

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