MADRID: Spain’s prime minister says he has no plans to expand his country’s contingent of peacekeepers in Afghanistan. Within days, the government will eliminate a 3,000-person limit on the number of Spanish soldiers who can be stationed abroad. This has led to speculation that the 800-strong Spanish contingent in western Afghanistan might be increased, if U.S. president-elect Barack Obama requests it.
But Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told a news conference Friday he has no such plans. He says Spain has carefully measured what it “should and can” contribute to the operation in Afghanistan and “the government’s position is not in favour of increasing Spanish troops in Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile Australia has ruled out sending additional troops to bolster its presence in Afghanistan. Emphasising this, following the move by the United States to raise its deployment there, Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said on Monday that “strategically and tactically, the numbers … more than 1,000 troops … we have there [now] are about right.” In an interview, Mr. Fitzgibbon said: “We have had no approach from the U.S., for example, to increase our troop commitments.”
Noting that the ongoing anti-terror operations in Afghanistan were primarily a mission of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, he said “we are the largest non-NATO contributor, and the ninth or tenth largest contributor overall.” In such a situation, Australia had “no intention of doing more in Afghanistan, while so many NATO countries remain so under-committed.”
Indeed, the U.S. and other NATO countries were “very appreciative” of the Australian effort. “We are punching above our weight,’ Mr. Fitzgibbon said. “When we were concurrently in Iraq, Afghanistan, and East Timor, we had about 2,500 troops [in all] on the ground, and we were overstretched then.”
In another development, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced additional aid towards the consolidation of an electoral process in Afghanistan.-SANA