Along with Canada, they are the main Nato countries fighting against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

They say the police force is a weak link in efforts to extend the authority of Hamid Karzai, the country's president, beyond Kabul.

Germany, already training the police on behalf of the UN, said at a meeting of EU foreign and defence ministers in Brussels on Monday that it would be ready to accept an additional EU mission.

Michele Alliot-Marie, the French defence minister, whose country often resists US pressure for closer EU-Nato co-operation, questioned whether the training would "fit with the logic" of what the EU is doing in Afghanistan, but backed the fact-finding team nevertheless.

One senior envoy said a figure of 100 staff for Afghan police training was cited at the talks on Monday.

After the meeting of EU ambassadors, one diplomat said: "This does not prejudice the final decision on whether there will be a mission or not in the end. And we are talking about a very small mission.

"The emphasis of discussions is ensuring good co-ordination between the existing EU presence there and with other bodies such as the UN and of course Nato."

Troops commitment

EU officials said there was no pressure from the US-led military alliance to do more.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the external relations commissioner, said the commission and member states had given 3.7bn euros ($4.74bn) of aid to Afghanistan.

Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, noted that most EU countries had committed troops to the Nato-led security force there.