French, Canadian FMs head to Afghanistan amid troop push

Visit meant as follow-up to French pledge to send 700 more soldiers, Canada's threat to pull out 2,500 troops from southern Kandahar.

kouchner stresses 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
kouchner stresses 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The foreign ministers of France and Canada will visit Afghanistan this weekend as NATO prepares to bolster its forces there, a French diplomat said Friday. Bernard Kouchner and Maxime Bernier will go to the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the southeastern city of Kandahar on Saturday and Sunday, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the trip. Kouchner, who was visiting Tajikistan and Turkmenistan this week, will meet in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, government ministers and aid groups working in the country, the official said. The visit is meant as a follow-up to the French announcement last week that it is sending 700 more troops to Afghanistan. The trip will also help with France's preparations for an international donors conference for Afghanistan in June. France's offer of more troops at a NATO summit in Bucharest averted a looming crisis in the alliance over Afghanistan. Canada had threatened to pull out its 2,500 beleaguered soldiers in the southern Kandahar province unless they had reinforcements from another ally. France's combat troops are expected to move into eastern Afghanistan, freeing up US forces to help the Canadians in the south. France currently has 1,430 troops serving as part of the 47,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan. The US plans to send 3,200 extra Marines to Afghanistan. Washington has been lobbying European allies for months to send more troops to the front lines of the fight against the Taliban. NATO is seeking to boost flagging public support for the mission in the face of growing Taliban violence. The French donors conference is aiming at not just raising money but also reaching a broad new international strategy for Afghanistan, the French diplomat said. Meanwhile, a suicide bomber struck a road construction crew Saturday in southwestern Afghanistan, killing two Indian engineers and their Afghan driver, while erosion has exposed bodies from a Taliban-era mass grave, officials said. In other violence, 24 Taliban gunmen died in clashes with Afghan and foreign troops in southern Afghanistan. The insurgents were believed to be responsible for another attack on a road-building project days earlier.