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France Proposes European Gendarmes For Afghanistan

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- France has proposed sending European Union gendarmes to train paramilitary police in Afghanistan to step up training of Afghan security forces.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner suggested at an EU summit that officers be sent from the European Gendarmerie Force (EGF), which was set up under an agreement reached in 2004 to specialize in crisis management.

Turkey could also be involved alongside EGF members France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Romania, he said.

"The countries of this group, the European countries, have accepted," Kouchner told reporters after outlining the proposals to other EU foreign ministers in Brussels. "We are going to try to make a joint proposition."

EU governments are keen to make a good start in relations with U.S. President Barack Obama, who visits Europe early next month, but have been reluctant to alienate voters by pouring in more troops.

The United States and NATO allies are working on a new strategy for Afghanistan, where Obama says the United States and its allies are not winning the war against Taliban insurgents.

The new U.S. administration has put pressure on the Europeans to commit more troops and other resources.

An EU Afghan police training mission that already exists is under strength despite a decision last year to double its size.

Gendarmes belong to a military force, which is charged with police duties among civilian populations. It was not immediately clear how many gendarmes might be sent to Afghanistan.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the EU had a "very important role" to play in improving Afghan policing.

"Without secure, effective police forces to back up the military effort, there is not going to be stability," he told reporters. "As long as this idea is properly integrated with the NATO and other operations it can be very useful."

A NATO diplomat said the idea of gendarmerie training would be to train Afghan paramilitary police. "These are not traffic policemen. They are trained and armed to fight and hold territory," he said.

He said the French idea followed discussion in the alliance about expanding NATO's role in police training. He said France continually stressed it should be an EU mission.

Militant violence has risen to its highest level since U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan overthrew the Taliban in late 2001. Obama has authorized an additional 17,000 U.S. troops for the country, on top of the 38,000 already there, flanked by just over 30,000 troops from other nations.