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Brown to send more U.K. troops to Afghanistan

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he is sending hundreds more British troops to Afghanistan, raising the authorized force level to 9,500.
/ Source: The Associated Press

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered hundreds more troops to Afghanistan on Wednesday, pledging to bolster the international effort on the condition that Britain's allies also do their fair share to support the war effort.

Brown did not immediately give a figure for the size of the increase when he spoke in the House of Commons, but he said Britain's overall contribution would rise to 9,500 troops — an increase of about 500. He said the troops would only be sent once the government could assure that they would be fully equipped for the mission. Domestic critics have complained of inadequate equipment.

Brown said the Afghan government would also have to demonstrate its commitment to the war effort and international allies would need to contribute to a more robust effort. The U.S. is weighing a troop increase and President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he will decide in "the coming weeks" on a war strategy and how many troops would be needed to carry it out.

"I have agreed in principle to a new British force level of 9,500, which will be put into effect once these conditions are met," Brown told lawmakers.

Britain has the second-largest force in Afghanistan after the United States, which has 67,000 troops there.

Brown also promised some 10 million pounds ($16 million) in aid to both Pakistan and Afghanistan, arguing that Britain and its allies cannot go after al-Qaida in Afghanistan without supporting the Pakistani fight against insurgents.

"Our objective is clear and focused: to prevent al-Qaida launching attacks on our streets and threatening legitimate government in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said. "But if we limit ourselves simply to targeting al Qaida, without building the capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with terrorism and violent extremism, the security gains will not endure."

The comments came after a somewhat tense parliamentary session, in which lawmakers wondered aloud why Britain was stepping up to support a government whose legitimacy was called into question after disputed elections.

"We can't live in denial about the total lack of legitimacy of the present Afghan government," Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg said.

Assurances sought
Brown said he had discussed the way forward with President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister who came second in the early count of election results.

"I asked them for an assurance that they will sign a contract with us and the other allied powers about the elimination of corruption, the proper conduct of government, the appointment of governors who can actually manage in the provinces and the appointment of junior officials who can do that as well, as well as asking them to support our forces with a proper number of Afghan forces working with them," Brown said.

Britain's former commander in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, said the reported move was "a bold decision." He told the BBC that the additional manpower would allow military chiefs to deploy an extra battle group into central Helmand province, something he said would give commanders there "extra combat power."

"I think we probably do need more than that, but it's a contribution," he told the BBC.

The decision comes after Brown's recently retired army chief accused him of turning down the military's request for more troops in Afghanistan.

Gen. Richard Dannatt said the prime minister turned down advice to commit an extra 2,000 troops to the fight against the Taliban, an allegation the prime minister's office denied.

Brown's supporters have questioned the retired general's motives, noting that he has since been picked to become a senior adviser to the opposition Conservative Party.

In Afghanistan, Ghulab Mangal, governor of Helmand province, praised the move.

"The British prime minister's announcement about sending an additional 500 troops is a good step because it will put more pressure on the Taliban," he said. "It will bring peace to Helmand province. We also want our Afghan army and police force to be trained by the British as well."

Britain's mission in Afghanistan has become increasingly unpopular as casualties mount.

A poll released Wednesday found 36 percent of respondents thought British troops should leave Afghanistan, up from 29 percent in mid-September.

Pollster Populus interviewed 1,509 adults between Oct. 9 and Oct. 11. The margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.

British lawmakers returned this week from a three-month summer break, and Brown will open his weekly question session by reading out the names of 37 soldiers killed in Afghanistan during the period. A total of 221 U.K. military personnel have died in Afghanistan since the war there began in late 2001, according to the Ministry of Defense.

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