Spain to boost contingent in Afghanistan

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The Spanish government decided Friday to send an additional 220 troops to Afghanistan to boost security in the war-ravaged nation.

Madrid - The Spanish government decided Friday to send an additional 220 troops to Afghanistan to boost security in the war-ravaged nation.

Spain currently has about 1,230 troops stationed in Afghanistan as part of the 64,500-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which is supporting the beleaguered Afghan government.

But about 450 of them were sent to provide security for the Afghan presidential elections last month and are supposed to return after the results are known on September 17.

The cabinet Friday approved "an increase in the number of Spanish troops in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan," Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said.

The new deployment, which will still need parliamentary approval, would involve "220 troops who will contribute to security" in the country "at a particularly important time" after the presidential elections and ahead of local polls scheduled for next year.

Spanish Defence Minister Carme Chacon said last week that Spain's military chief has recommended that Madrid send another 220 troops to Afghanistan "to boost security in the provinces where the Spanish troops are working and reinforce the security of Spanish troops."

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was elected in 2004 on a promise to pull Spain out of the US-led coalition in Iraq. But he has continued to support the deployment of troops to Afghanistan on the grounds that the mission in the country, unlike the invasion of Iraq, has a United Nations mandate.

Late last year Spain’s parliament lifted a 3,000-troop limit on how many soldiers the country can deploy overseas.

Afghans went to the polls on August 20 to elect a president for only the second time, eight years after the US-led invasion ousted the Taliban from power following the September 11, 2001 attacks blamed on Al-Qaeda.

But the presidential and provincial council elections have been overshadowed by allegations of vote-rigging and mass fraud, and marred by low turnout blamed on Taliban intimidation and record levels of violence.

AFP / Expatica

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