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EU-defensiemacht zou NAVO-vredesoperatie in Afghanistan moeten overnemen (en)

The Eurocorps - consisting of soldiers from France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain - could take over NATO's operations in Afganistan in the summer.

The idea - proposed by French President Jacques Chirac to NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at a meeting earlier this week - will be discussed at a crucial NATO meeting today in Munich, which will also be attended by American defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

NATO currently commands the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, which is mainly based in the capital Kabul.

In turn, Germany is running the NATO operation in Afghanistan but will be succeeded by Canada on 10 February.

However Canada intends to reduce its forces in the country from 2000 men to 500 men from August, which has prompted President Chirac's suggestion that the Eurocorps take over.

The Eurocorps consists of over 50,000 men and has already undertaken peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. However, Afghanistan would be a much riskier undertaking.

Washington is said to be favourable to the proposal and if the mission proved to be a success, the credibility of European defence could be bolstered.

President Chirac will make an official announcement on the subject after meeting UK prime minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in Berlin on 18 February.

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