Finland to withdraw soldiers from Afghan

HELSINKI: Finland will next week bring home some 80 soldiers who were sent to Afghanistan in July as part of a NATO-led peacekeeping operation to oversee elections, the government said Wednesday.

The troops were to help maintain peace during the August 20 presidential election, but will leave before the second round of voting is held on November 7.

"The government and president decided in the spring that Finland would send additional (peacekeepers) to Afghanistan due to the elections. Later it was decided that they would stay for four months and that period is now coming to an end," Defence Minister Jyri Haekaemies told reporters.

He added that Sweden would be sending more peacekeepers to the war-torn country to compensate for the soldiers Finland will withdraw on October 28.

Sweden currently has around 400 troops in Afghanistan and will increase that number to around 535 in late November.

Finland doubled the number of Finnish peacekeepers to around 200 to boost security during the August vote. The fraud-tainted poll was inconclusive and a decision was reached earlier this week to hold a second round of voting on November 7.

"The timetable was decided together with NATO's ISAF troops and it was predicted then that the possible second round would be held in September," Haekaemies explained.

Some 110 Finnish troops will remain in the northern part of Afghanistan as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).