» Monday, February 26, 2007

Afghanistan Troop Annoucement

Asked how disappointed the Prime Minister was that, in the words of the Defence Secretary, after consistently lobbying our partners for more help in Afghanistan, it was clear that only we and a small number of key allies were prepared to step forward, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that the Prime Minister believed that NATO was the organisation who decided how many troops were necessary. Equally the Prime Minister recognised that other countries had lifted caveats on how their troops could be deployed, and other countries were helping in other ways such as reconstruction. But it was a reality that in the end a certain number of combat troops were needed, and that role had fallen to us. That was why we were making the announcement today. This was an announcement to support our troops in what the Prime Minister believed was a mission that had to succeed.

Put to him that a number of Government spokesmen had made the point that Iraq was not Afghanistan, and Afghanistan was not Iraq, and what then in that case were the differences, the PMOS replied that each case should be judged on its own merits. In Basra we had a situation where there was the capacity developing on the Iraqi side that allowed us to draw down the number of troops. In Afghanistan we were very much in an active conflict with the Taliban. Therefore we needed to support the troops that were there, and fulfil our role in the Southern region, and that we would do. Each case should be judged on its own merits.

Asked if there was a sense that the presence of troops was likely to be more decisive in one than the other in terms of outcomes, the PMOS replied that in terms of Iraq we were moving from a situation where we were doing the patrolling in places like Basra, to the Iraqi army doing the patrolling with us in a support role, although that support role could still involve taking on militants and patrolling borders. In Afghanistan there was a more active fight going on. At this stage the Afghan forces did not have the capacity to take that active fight on, and therefore that role fell to us.

Put to him that the rest of the NATO alliance, especially some European members, did not want to get their hands dirty in the fight, and what would it take for the Prime Minister to convince them, and on the Pakistan side, was the Prime Minister pushing for President Musharraf to do more, the PMOS replied that on the first point everyone had to recognise that there were different historical backgrounds, and that partly shaped the way in which countries viewed these matters. Again, we should not underestimate the reconstruction work, which could be helpful and to which people could contribute. On the Pakistan front, our basic attitude was that we should recognise first and foremost that the Pakistani authorities had done a lot to counter extremists in their country. As President Musharraf would say, they had lost more troops than any other country. Equally, we believed that there was more to do, and we would continue to discuss with the Pakistanis what more they could do.

Asked for a ballpark estimate for the time it might take for the Afghans to get their own army in order, and was their even a timetable in place, the PMOS replied that there was a process of training up the capacity of both the Afghan police and the army. In terms of timescale, he did not believe that we had ever put a timescale on it, but asked that the journalist check with the FCO & MoD. Whenever we had visited Kabul, this was certainly part of the discussion that was going on. The real problem was that at the same time, the Taliban were trying to dislodge a democratically elected Government. Even less so than in Iraq, the history and background is of a country in which the central Government never really had a properly accountable administration backed up by local authority in outlying regions. Therefore we were trying to establish for the first time, the backbone of a normal democratic society. That took time.

Asked if there was scope in Afghanistan for NATO allies to provide equipment if they could not provide troops, the PMOS replied that this was first and foremost a matter for NATO. There were active discussions taking place about how NATO allies could contribute even if they did not contribute directly to combat forces.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

1 Comment »

  1. This is what we are in Afghanistan to help the Americans to do:

    US troops kill 16 Afghans after attack
    By Reuters, Sun Mar 4, 12:22 GMT

    After a suicide bomber attacked an American military convoy in Afghanistan on Sunday, US troops opened fire and killed eight civilians and wounded more than 30, Afghan police said.

    In a separate incident, two NATO soldiers were killed during combat operations in the south on Saturday. Their nationalities were not given.

    The civilians were killed on a main road outside the city of Jalalabad in the east of the country after a suicide car-bomber attacked the US convoy.

    There were no reports of casualties among the US troops and it was unclear why they opened fire on civilians.

    \x93We have eight confirmed killed and more than 30 wounded, some of whom are in critical condition,\x94 said provincial police spokesman Abdul Ghafour.

    He said US troops from a US-led coalition force were responsible. Spokesmen for the coalition were not available.

    Officials from a separate NATO-led force, which has US troops in the area, referred queries to the coalition force.

    After the shooting, hundreds of people staged a protest and blocked the road, residents and officials said.

    Bombing and accidental shootings by Western forces feeds resentment of the government of President Hamid Karzai and its allies and even bolsters support for the Taliban guerrillas.

    More than 45,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan battling a resurgent Taliban who have threatened a spring offensive after the bloodiest year since their ouster by US forces in 2001.

    Comment by tony — 4 Mar 2007 on 3:20 pm | Link

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