Greek troops to serve in Afghanistan

A contingent of between 100 and 150 Greek soldiers are to leave for Afghanistan by January 15 to take part in the international peacekeeping force that is to begin deploying as early as this week. At the same time, Greece will help take up the slack in Balkan peacekeeping forces as the United States withdraws 6,000 troops currently serving in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. The precise number of Greek and other European troops and their mission will be determined today at a meeting in London to be chaired by the British commander of the force. According to sources on the Greek general staff, the Greek contingent will comprise a medical unit of 30-40 people, an ambulance and mobile hospital and a company of 50-60 engineers with road construction equipment and support. Security will be provided by a platoon of 40 commandos. The Greek force will include two C-130 military transport planes that left yesterday for Afghanistan with humanitarian aid. The same sources stressed that the Greek troops’ mission will be purely supportive and that the contingent will consist only of volunteers. The Inner Cabinet has already approved the dispatch of more troops to the Balkans and the use of the two military transport planes in Afghanistan. It also emerged yesterday that a Greek commando brigadier is already at the US Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, which is conducting the Afghanistan campaign. The Greek officer may be joined by officers from the Greek air force and navy. Britain, which is leading the initial phase of the peacekeeping mission, expects to have 200 marines in Kabul, the Afghan capital, by Saturday. It is expected to deploy a total of about 1,500 troops, followed by France with between 800 and 1,000, Spain (700), Italy (600-700), the Netherlands (350) and Germany (350). The whole force of about 5,000 will be in Afghanistan by January 15. As for the Balkans, Greece is expected to send a mechanized battalion of about 300 men to join the 1,500 who are already in the region. The battalion is ready to leave as soon as the United States announces the withdrawal of its troops. Transport Minister Christos Verelis said an investigation was being conducted to see whether anyone was to blame for allowing the train to head into the blizzard.

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