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Romania To Send More Troops To Afghanistan; Germany Mulls Raising Number

Romanian troops in Afghanistan's Zabul Province
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania will send 600 more troops to Afghanistan this year, boosting its military presence there to more than 1,600 soldiers, the Supreme Defense Council said.

Romania, the second poorest country in the European Union and a NATO member since 2004, has been a staunch ally of Washington in its military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has 982 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of NATO's ISAF mission and another 38 taking part in the Enduring Freedom coalition's operations.

The NATO-led military mission is expected to be expanded rapidly in 2010 with the arrival of 30,000 more American troops.

The Romanian Defense Council has also set a limit of 3,753 for the overall number of Romanian troops that can participate in missions outside its territory this year.

Germany also suggested it may raise its troops numbers in Afghanistan. German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg today said the troop level may rise above 4,500 to help train the country's police forces and bolster civilian reconstruction,

"It can't be ruled out that we'll stay at this limit or that we'll go beyond it. It just has to make sense," Guttenberg told ARD television, adding that the relevant government departments were still assessing exactly how to proceed.

"We're not just talking about troops, we're also talking about training [Afghan] police and bolstering civilian aid," the minister added, less than a week before a London conference on the future of Afghanistan begins on January 28.

"This isn't a debate about combat troops, it's about whether we need greater protection there," Guttenberg said. "That's all being worked out just now, and this will be the basis for a figure we'll present next week."

Polls show a majority of Germans want Chancellor Angela Merkel's government to pull the country's troops out of Afghanistan, but Berlin has been under pressure from the United States and NATO leadership to bolster its presence there.

Lawmakers from Merkel's conservatives have said additional police trainers would need corresponding cover in Afghanistan, which could provide grounds to raise troop levels.

Some also believe more are needed to shore up Germany's position in parts of the north, like the city of Kunduz.