Sun, Apr 05, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Britain weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan

THE GUARDAIN , STRASBOURG, FRANCE

Further British troops are expected to be sent to Afghanistan to bolster successful elections this summer that will in turn weaken the Taliban and help embed democracy, UK defense secretary John Hutton said on Friday.

Speaking in Strasbourg on the eve of NATO’s 60th summit, Hutton suggested British troops could be needed in the country for at least another three or four years. He also urged NATO allies to take greater responsibility, admitting his frustration at the lack of military contributions in the parts of Afghanistan that have seen the most fierce conflict.

He also claimed the election of US President Barack Obama and Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan had taken away the excuses some NATO countries had hidden behind to avoid a bigger military contribution to drive out the Taliban.

Hutton spoke after a British official revealed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is to propose sending short of 1,000 extra troops to the country to see off a Taliban threat to the presidential elections in August.

Hutton stressed it was for the prime minister to decide on the detail of the deployment of extra troops to Afghanistan, but British sources said the deployment would be in the mid to high hundreds, dependent on the contributions made by other NATO allies. Britain currently has 8,100 troops in Afghanistan.

Hutton said: “It is very important that we support the democratic process in the country, even though the elections will generate a security threat. The best way to fight extremism is through democracy. It is the first major test since 2004 so we have got to make sure it goes well. The Taliban are opposed to the whole democratic process, so the last thing they want is successful elections.”

He indicated the extra troops were not just for the elections, but also to counter the growing use of explosive devices to kill and maim British soldiers.

“The IED [improvised explosive device] threat is a very serious challenge to us, and we have got to get on top of that and we will be able to get on top of that by re-engineering some of our capabilities there,” he said.

It is understood the British are looking for air support capable of identifying disturbed ground and more mine detectors and engineers. Hutton said he was clear other NATO countries at the summit would come up with troops to help with the election period. “It will be a good demonstration to our commitment to transformation in Afghanistan for other NATO troops to stump up the extra security that is required and I am confident that will happen,” he said.

More broadly, he criticized some of his NATO allies for still refusing to send extra troops into the south and east of Afghanistan where the serious fighting is taking place.

“I don’t think the hard end of the security mission is being properly shared and that is the view of many others including the President of the United States. Europe has got to see al-Qaeda is every bit a direct threat to Europe and the UK as it is to the US. The threat remains and unless we rise to the occasion there will be serious security implications for Europe,” he said.

He said that it was up to the Afghans to decide whether Afghan President Hamid Karzai should be re-elected, but he said he was very concerned by reports of a draft law to force women to stay at home and to be forced to have sex within marriage.

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