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Poland Scraps Plan To Expand Afghan Force

Defense Minister Bogdan Klich, whose ministry is under heavy pressure to cut spending, divulged the move.
WARSAW (Reuters) -- Despite earlier plans Poland will not expand its 1,600-strong contingent in Afghanistan because of budget cuts linked to the global economic crisis, the defense minister has been quoted as saying.

Earlier this month, Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said Poland would withdraw troops from peacekeeping missions in Chad, Lebanon, and the Golan Heights as part of the center-right government's plan to cut budget spending.

He had said in January that Poland, which joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004, would review the NATO-led Afghan mission's effectiveness and might increase its force there by 400-600 troops.

On February 14, however, he made clear the Afghan contingent would not be strengthened. "We can't afford [to send more troops to Afghanistan]," the daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted Klich as saying.

Defense has the biggest budget among Poland's 17 government ministries and Klich has been under mounting pressure from Prime Minister Donald Tusk to cut costs.

Although Poland is expected to avoid recession this year, analysts forecast its economic growth will slow to 1.4 percent from 4.8 percent in 2008, making it difficult to achieve its ambitious plan of cutting the budget deficit from last year's level.