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UK to increase Afghanistan troops to 7,700

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

London, Feb 26, IRNA
UK Troops-Afghanistan
Defence Secretary Des Browne announced Monday that Britain was increasing the number of its troops in Afghanistan to 7,700, more than the current deployment in Iraq.

The rise by 1,400, mainly being sent to the southern Helmand province, is more than what was expected and was seen underlining the concern about a likely spring offensive being mounted by the Taliban.

In a parliamentary statement, Browne insisted that it would be an "error" to believe that the increase in troop numbers was the result of poor planning.

He also denied that the need for more forces in Afghanistan had forced the recent decision to reduce troops in Iraq. The move, he said, was being made with the agreement of the chiefs of staff and was "manageable."

The announced increase is the second in the past month and comes after an international think-tank recently warned that a 'make or break' situation is facing NATO forces in southern Afghanistan in the coming months, with the threat of a major Taliban spring office.

After Musa Qala fell two weeks ago, the Taliban now have the big towns in their sights and anyone who can leave has already left, the Senlis Council said in its latest field report on the Counter Insurgency in Afghanistan.

The number of reinforcements is slightly less than the 1,600 cut in British troops in Iraq announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair last week, which will reduce the number to around 5,500 by this summer with further cuts being planned for later in the year.

The transfer follows a NATO-led review of its Afghan deployment and the Bush Administration's announcement last week to spend an extra Dlrs 10 billion to bolster its Afghan effort.

Prior to the announcement, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, who has called for UK soldiers to be out of Iraq by October, said that he backed the plans to bolster Afghanistan forces.

"I think [the military campaign] is winable - that's the judgement of the senior commanders," Campbell told the BBC on Sunday.

But the main opposition Conservative Party said the new Afghan deployment shows UK forces are too "overstretched" to carry out duties in both there and in Iraq.

NATO, which currently has some 35,000 troops in Afghanistan, including some 6,000 British forces currently there, has consistently called on its member states to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Last Friday, Browne again appealed to Britain's NATO partners in Europe to send more troops, warning that otherwise "we will put at risk everything we have achieved across Afghanistan in the last five years."

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