British PM visits UK troops near Afghan front line
By PAISLEY DODDS,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 29 minutes ago
KABUL, Afghanistan - Gordon Brown became the first British leader to visit troops close to one of Afghanistan's most volatile front lines Saturday, saying that Europe's streets were safer from terrorists because of the fight against the Taliban.
But it was unclear just how far he would go to match a planned U.S. troop surge.
Brown is leading a review of the U.K.'s strategy in Afghanistan and a troop announcement is expected to Britain's Parliament next week. A few hundred reinforcements have already been sent from a base in Cyprus on a temporary deployment to the southern Helmand province.
American leaders say thousands of incoming U.S. troops will be sent to reinforce British forces in the south, a major shift in strategy. Most American forces have been deployed in eastern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan. But Helmand and neighboring Kandahar have suffered from the country's worst violence the last two years.
"It is right that the Americans propose to bring more troops into Afghanistan, but it is also right that the burden-sharing means that others have to do more," Brown said visiting troops in Helmand and meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. "We are the second largest force in Afghanistan and we will expect as part of the burden sharing that other countries will do more."
Britain has some 8,200 troops in Afghanistan but it lacks the strength and financial backing of the US military. By 2009, more than 10,000 US troops may be deployed to Helmand alone.
Even if Brown wanted to, reality might stop him from providing large numbers of extra British troops.
Britain's military has repeatedly been accused of sending soldiers into the field without the necessary equipment. Only recently, a committee of British lawmakers warned that the military's performance and morale were suffering because it was so tightly stretched by extended warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. The economic downturn isn't likely to help.
The link between Afghanistan's ousted Taliban and today's current terror threat is also less clear.
Brown said Saturday that a "chain of terror" stretches from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe.
Although many of Europe's recent terror attacks _ such as London's thwarted trans-Atlantic airliner plot or 2005 subway attacks _ and India's recent Mumbai shootings have led back to Pakistan, the link between Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime and the al-Qaida terror network has become blurred since the Afghan regime once harbored Osama bin Laden. Equally unclear is the Afghan link to the some 2,000 terror suspects being monitored in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe.
"British people are safer today because we have our troops working with the Afghan people to act against terror," Brown said.
Karzai said any additional troops would be better used on the Afghan-Pakistan border where insurgents with clear links to al-Qaida are hiding
"Any increase in troops should be in the Afghan borders with Pakistan to prevent the infiltration of terrorists," Karzai said in a news conference with Brown.
British troops say despite problems, progress has been made in Afghanistan _ with key regions taken back from extremists and better intelligence being collected on the ground.
But the toll has been high _ more than 130 British troops have died in Afghanistan since 2001.
Brown on Saturday visited Helmand's Sangin Valley, about 25 miles (45 kilometers) from the scene of the two attacks Friday. British military officials said it was the closest that Brown _ or his predecessor Tony Blair _ had ever been to the front lines in the Afghan war.
In one attack, a teenage suicide bomber killed three troops. A small homemade bomb was placed under a pile of newspapers in the wheelbarrow he had carted past three Marines on foot patrol. Another was killed in a separate roadside bomb.
"I think that there is disgust and horror at these tactics used by the Taliban," said Brown, who described Friday's suicide bombing as a "cowardly." "It is a terrible commentary on the Taliban that they should use a 13-year-old child to be a suicide bomber," he said.
Troops say the Taliban today is not easily distinguished from those simply opposed to foreign intervention, farmers trying to protect their livelihoods in poppy cultivation or those with extremist ideologies.
Militant bombs and ambushes have become more sophisticated, but not yet as complex as tactics used in Iraq, British officials said on the condition they weren't identified because of government rules.
Officials said the quality of intelligence from Afghans has vastly improved in recent months, likening the development to the breakthrough in Britain's fight against the Irish Republican Army in Ireland _ when progress became more rapid once locals began offering information.
British forces were tipped off before Oct. 11 when dozens of Taliban fighters were trying to launch an attack on Helmand province's capital, Lashkar Gah, in an attempt to kill the provincial governor. Months ago, no one would have warned troops of the plot, officials said.
"Challenges remain but there's been visible progress from my last visit," Brown said following a meeting with Helmand's Gov. Gulab Mangal.
Recommend this article
Average (0 votes)
Sign in to recommend this article »
Most Recommended Stories »
Related Articles: Asia Pacific
World’s fastest off—track car, Ariel Atom, to be sold in SingaporeChannel NewsAsia - 1 hour 22 minutes ago
Mumbai gunman's confession sheds light on massacreAP - 1 hour 36 minutes ago
British PM arrives in India ahead of talks with SinghAFP - Sunday, December 14
548 officers from Army, Navy and Air Force commissioned on SaturdayChannel NewsAsia - Sunday, December 14
Speaker of Parliament Tarmugi to visit Egypt from Dec 14—19Channel NewsAsia - Sunday, December 14
Most Popular – Asia Pacific
US carmakers mull options as White House vows aid
US Treasury ready to stave off auto sector collapse
Nobel laureates crown U2's Bono 'man of peace'
Italian investor group formally takes over Alitalia
Greek youth protest switches to scene of teen killing
View Complete List »