UK to recruit more soldiers for Afghanistan

LONDON: Britain will have to recruit more soldiers to sustain a prolonged military mission in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister has indicated. Gordon Brown made the admission as he outlined a new long-term strategy to “isolate and eradicate” the Taliban. Senior military figures believe that British troops could be in Afghanistan in large numbers for up to a decade, raising worries about the pressure on the over-stretched Army. It is also believed that the force in Iraq is being rapidly reduced in order to maintain a steady supply of troops for Afghanistan, where almost 8,000 are deployed.

The Prime Minister’s announcement was described as a “damp squib” by Patrick Mercer, a Tory MP and former officer. He told Mr Brown that “the pips are squeaking on Army manning”. The Prime Minister replied that there were “more troops that we wish to recruit and retain for the Armed Forces and that is what we intend to do.”

However, commanders are said to be struggling to find units for this time next year after 16 Air Assault Brigade completes its tour in Helmand. The Army is also short of almost 5,000 soldiers with many troops leaving after many years of constant operations.Despite reports that Britain would open dialogue with the Taliban, Mr Brown went out of his way to deny the story, stressing that there would be no negotiations with the senior Taliban leadership.”Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating their leadership,” he told MPs. “I make it clear that we will not enter into any negotiations with these people. Our objective is to root out those preaching and practising violence and murder in support of men and women of peace.”

Britain would support efforts by the Afghan government to negotiate with tribal fighters now supporting the Taliban – but only if they embrace democracy.Senior Government sources stressed that the only negotiations with the Taliban were attempts by President Hamid Karzai to persuade them to change sides. But they said a “systematic way” was needed to co-ordinate the reconciliation of insurgents and Britain would “support and fund” an office for that purpose.

Mr Brown told MPs that the British military force would remain at 7,800 personnel, although it would be receiving 150 additional protected patrol vehicles, as well as extra Sea King helicopters. There will also be a further £450 million in development and stabilisation aid from 2009 to 2012.The Prime Minister also backed calls for the appointment of a high-level UN envoy in Afghanistan. Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, is seen as a front runner for the job.-SANA

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Rubab Saleem

Rubab Saleem is Editor of Pakistan Times

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