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France offers more troops for Afghanistan

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday that his government is willing to commit more troops to the war in Afghanistan, calling the fight there "crucial" to the NATO alliance.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy and wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy at Westminster Abbey in London on Wednesday.

"We cannot afford to lose Afghanistan," Sarkozy told British lawmakers during a state visit. "We cannot afford to see the Taliban and al Qaeda returning to Kabul. Whatever the cost, however difficult the victory, we cannot afford it. We must win."

U.S. and NATO forces are battling a resurgent Taliban and its al Qaeda allies in Afghanistan nearly seven years after al Qaeda's 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The United States has pushed for a greater allied combat presence in the country, and Afghanistan is expected to top the agenda when NATO heads of state gather in Romania in early April.

Afghanistan is one of the issues Sarkozy is expected to discuss with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown when the two leaders meet Thursday.

The French leader did not provide details of any additional deployment, which he said would depend on NATO's support for a broader development strategy for Afghanistan.

"If these proposals are accepted, then France at the Bucharest NATO summit will suggest strengthening its presence," he said.

In Washington, U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters at the White House that an additional commitment from France "would be a very positive thing."

"As you know, have been pretty vocal in comments we've made," Hadley said. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has argued for NATO countries to step up their support for the war in Afghanistan at other alliance meetings, he said, "so I think it's very clear that we all need to do more."

About 50,000 American and allied troops are currently in Afghanistan.

A January report by top U.S. officials described the international effort to stabilize the country as "faltering." The Pentagon announced plans to dispatch about 3,200 more U.S. Marines to the front lines, bringing the number of U.S. troops there to roughly 32,000.

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Though 25 NATO allies and 13 other countries have contributed forces, the bulk of the recent fighting has been done by U.S., Canadian, British and Dutch troops.

Earlier this month, Canada agreed to extend its commitment of about 2,500 troops until 2011 so long as NATO contributes more troops to the volatile southern province of Kandahar. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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