Saturday, February 24, 2007

Britain To Boost Afghanistan Force

More British troops are to be sent to Afghanistan, Defence Secretary Des Browne tonight confirmed. The Government had been expected to announce on Monday that up to 1,000 extra troops would be deployed. But Mr Browne said he felt "obliged to clarify the situation" early after widespread media speculation. The decision comes just days after Tony Blair announced 1600 troops are to be withdrawn from Iraq. Mr Browne said the decision had been taken after efforts to persuade other Nato countries to help bolster the force in the volatile Helmand province failed. "We are acutely aware that our Armed Forces, particularly the Army, continue to operate at a high operational tempo, but we believe this additional commitment is manageable," he said in a statement released by the Ministry of Defence.Mr Browne disclosed that the matter had been discussed in Cabinet yesterday, and the "final details" of the force levels were now being drawn up by the MoD. "The UK has always agreed that Nato needs more forces in these regions, where the Taliban challenge is most serious - in particular, for a greater manoeuvre capability," he said. "Nato must respond to this request, or we will put at risk everything we have achieved across Afghanistan in the last five years: the stability which has brought five million refugees home, the advances in democracy, the economy, human rights and women’s rights." Nato commanders have been complaining for months that they do not have enough troops to inflict a decisive defeat on the Taliban - who are widely thought to be preparing a spring offensive. One senior officer privately described it as a “Cinderella” operation, compared with Iraq. The alliance currently has some 35,000 troops in the country, including 5,600 British troops, mainly deployed in Helmand. However, there has been deep frustration within the alliance that the brunt of the fighting has been borne by troops from just a few countries - notably Britain, the United States and Canada.