UK to deploy extra troops to Afghanistan
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UK to deploy extra troops to Afghanistan

Premier Blair had said that 1,600 soldiers would be recalled from southern Iraq.

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Britain is to deploy extra troops in Afghanistan for a planned "spring offensive" against Taliban forces, said Defence Secretary Des Browne.

Browne, who confirmed the decision late Friday, did not say how many extra troops would be sent, but media reports mentioned over 1,000, in a move seen as proof of a shift in strategy in the country's commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Browne is due to announce detailed plans in parliament on Monday.

"After a long and bloody year" in Afghanistan, and 47 troops killed, the British government was clearly shifting the emphasis of its military conflict involvement from Iraq to Afghanistan, experts said.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that 1,600 soldiers would be recalled from southern Iraq in the next few months, and that troop levels in the country could "fall below 5,000" later this year.

Britain currently has 7,100 service personnel in southern Iraq. With the new Afghanistan deployment, expected to be confirmed by the government Monday, figures there will approach 7,000.

The NATO alliance currently has some 35,000 troops in the country, including 5,600 British troops, mainly deployed in the troubled southern Helmand province.

Conservative defence spokesman Liam Fox Friday criticised the lack of response by some NATO members to an appeal for larger contributions, made at the alliance's summit in Riga last December.

Fox said the appeal had fallen on deaf ears. "Those troops should be coming from countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain who have so far not shown the adequate resolve to be part of a full NATO complement in Afghanistan," he told the BBC.

"Too many of our European partners are now pocketing the NATO security guarantee but leaving UK taxpayers and the UK military to carry the cost."

The Guardian said the extra British commitment would cost the government 250 million pounds ($487 million).

Military commanders have long warned that British forces were "too overstretched" carrying out duties in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Britain has recently revamped its operations in Afghanistan to put most manpower into Helmand province.

Southwest Afghanistan was proving a "stubborn nut to crack," said defence expert Thomas Withington of the Centre for Defence Studies.

"Many answers lie in deploying more troops and having more equipment on the ground, but they also lie in securing the border areas," he said.

But what is really required is a two-pronged strategy, to ensure those two things could become a reality, said Withington.

First Published: Feb 24, 2007 13:35 IST