» Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Asked for the Prime Minister s reaction to General Dannatt s comments on the Today Programme this morning, the Prime Minister s Spokesman (PMS) said that in the Prime Minister s view we needed to see more burden sharing and more troops from other NATO members. We were training up the Afghan army so that they would be able to take on more responsibility for providing security in Helmand. In regards to our troop position, we had increased troop numbers to cover the election period and we kept the number of troops under review. There didn t seem to be much in what General Dannatt had said this morning that the Prime Minister would disagree with.

Put that General Dannatt had to be ferried around theatre in a helicopter, the PMS said that this showed the high degree of cooperation that existed between NATO forces; the fact that we pooled resources and pooled helicopters was a strength of the mission.

Asked repeatedly what steps the Prime Minister was taking to persuade other NATO members to engage in the fighting, the PMS said that we took some significant steps at the NATO Summit in early April, where we secured several thousand extra troops to cover the election period from other NATO members. We were taking action but we needed to continue to have discussions with our NATO partners.

Put that this all implied that there were not yet enough people on the ground and other NATO countries were not stepping up to the mark, the PMS said that there were signs that other NATO countries were stepping up to the mark; troop numbers increased by several thousand for the election period. We wanted to see more Afghan troops in frontline roles as well and that was why we were working with the Afghan army to train up more Afghan soldiers. This was something that the Prime Minister had been discussing with President Karzai.

Put that General Dannatt had said we needed more troops on the ground regardless of where they came from which implied that the mission was currently under strength, the PMS said he did not think that followed; we wanted to see more resources and all concerned would always want that to be the case, which was why we were working with our NATO partners and training the Afghan army to that effect.

Asked repeatedly why more troops weren t being provided given that the army had said that we needed more troops and that they could provide them, the PMS said that we were making a significant contribution in Afghanistan; we were the second largest contributor of troops and we had increased out troop numbers over the election period. The UK troop number was now at just over nine thousand but we wanted to see more burden sharing, which was a longstanding position of the Government.

Put that the Government had two conflicting views; that we needed more burden sharing and more troops on the ground but that the military had what was needed to carry out current operations, the PMS said that the British Army Spokesman in Helmand had made clear that in the view of the military they had the resources they needed in order to fulfil their current operations. General Dannatt said that he did not mind whether the troops were American, British or Afghan; we needed to have more of an effort from other NATO partners and train up Afghan troops, which was what we were working towards.

Asked if the Government still planned to withdraw some British troops after the election period, the PMS said that the current plan was to reduce troop numbers back down to eight thousand three hundred, but reiterated that these things were kept under review.

Put that General Dannatt had said that the pace at which equipment was coming through was not as quick as he d hoped, the PMS said that in relation to helicopters for example, we would like to see the refitting, the refurbishment and training associated to happen as quickly as possible but there were certain logistical constraints on the Ministry of Defence; they had to re-equip the helicopters and re-train the crews. There was nothing that General Dannatt had said that the Prime Minister would disagree with.

Asked if the Prime Minister felt that General Dannatt was totally satisfied with the Government s efforts, the PMS said that the Prime Minister s view, as he made clear on Monday, was that we consulted very closely with the military, which included General Dannatt, the Chief of the Defence Staff and others. The Prime Minister was content that the approach we were taking in Afghanistan was the right one.

Asked when the Prime Minister last spoke to General Dannatt, the PMS said that the Prime Minister spoke regularly to senior military figures.

Asked if the Prime Minister felt that nine thousand was the upper ceiling in terms of British contribution to Afghanistan, the PMS said that our current troop numbers were around nine thousand, at the moment slightly above that because of the intensity of the fighting and the decision made by commanders on the ground to bring in extra resources from the reserve. We kept the number of British troops under review

Asked if there was a conscious effort to speed up the training of the Afghan army, the PMS said that we were working very closely with the Afghan army but these were operational matters that were best addressed to the Ministry of Defence and the military.

Asked if it was correct that the army had requested two thousand more men, the PMS said that he was not going to get into internal Government discussions; we were at seven thousand eight hundred at the end of last year and we now had over nine thousand.

original source.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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