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Spain commits more troops to Afghanistan in overture to Obama

While the increase in soldiers is modest, the government is showing support for Obama's shift of strategy in Afghanistan – and, more broadly, for the administration itself.

By Contributor / April 3, 2009

MADRID – The Spanish government is not wasting time when it comes to mending relations with the United States. It is expected to announce a boost of its troop levels in Afghanistan to more than 1,000 from its current 778 to reinforce NATO’s presence there ahead of presidential elections in August.

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The increase would be mostly symbolic, but it illustrates the length to which the socialist government of President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is going to rekindle relations that fell to a deep low under the previous US administration, when former President George W. Bush refused to meet Mr. Zapatero after he withdrew Spanish forces from Iraq in 2004 because the invasion lacked a UN mandate.

Spain is hoping the turnaround will resonate in common policies from climate change to relations with Latin America and Muslim countries.

Spanish Defense Minister Carme Chacón confirmed the move upon her arrival Friday in Strasbourg for the 60th anniversary meeting of NATO. She didn’t confirm the exact numbers, but said that Mr. Zapatero would disclose details Saturday. Spain’s mainstream media, however, is quoting unnamed government sources as saying Afghanistan will become one of the biggest contingents, close to its Lebanon peacekeeping force of 1,100 military personnel.

The announcement will be a nice ice breaker when Zapatero and President Barack Obama conduct their first official meeting next week during a European Union-US summit in Prague. On the agenda are Latin America and climate change, Spanish officials have said. Spain could also be useful in approaching Muslim countries, especially in its increased proximity to countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Libya, and Morocco.

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