BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – The European Union is expanding plans to set up several elite battle groups for rapid deployment to international trouble spots.

The original plan was to have nine such groups of 1,500 troops ready by 2007, but EU military officials said an enthusiastic response from nations wanting to contribute forces meant that at least 12 would now be set up.

Of that, four – led by France, Britain, Italy and Spain – should be in place next year.

Ministers are to firm up their contributions to the forces at a meeting at talks in Brussels on Monday.

They are also set to expand an EU police training mission in Congo, widening its role in setting up a 1,000-strong force drawn from various forces previously in conflict with each other in the African nation’s civil war.

France, Britain and Germany developed the battle group idea early this year to give the EU more military reach by allowing it to intervene quickly in international crises before they spin out of control. Smaller EU nations will be taking part in joint groups, often with their larger partners.

Of the 12 battle groups, two will be kept on high alert, ready to deploy within 10 days and be self-supporting for up to four months. The units will be used mostly for peacekeeping or humanitarian operations mandated by the United Nations.

The EU police mission in Congo will be expanded from 15 to around 25 officers and be given a wider role in monitoring, training and equipping a local force that will be tasked with protecting the country’s transitional government ahead of elections next year.

Besides the operation in Congo, the EU is already running missions helping local law enforcement operations in Bosnia and Macedonia and has a much smaller mission in Georgia.

AP-ES-11-19-04 2226EST

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