Brown defends Afghan role and death toll rises

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain must remain committed to the war in Afghanistan to help protect the world from al Qaeda attacks as four more British soldiers were reported killed in the conflict.
Three soldiers from The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers died in an explosion while on patrol near Sangin, in Helmand Province, yesterday morning, the Defence Ministry said.
Earlier, the ministry said a soldier from the same battalion was killed in an explosion in the same area, Reuters reports.
The deaths brought to 204 the total of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since Britain joined the US-led invasion to topple the Taliban in 2001. July was the deadliest month so far, with 21 soldiers killed.
Brown has faced severe criticism at home over government policy in Afghanistan.
But with a presidential election taking place there on Thursday, he said NATO forces must stay in place until the Afghan government, police and armed forces were capable of assuming more control. Failure to do so would make the world more dangerous, he said.
“It is to make Britain safe and the rest of the world safe that we must make sure we honour our commitment to maintain a free and stable Afghanistan,” Brown said.
Three-quarters of terrorist plots in Britain originate in the mountain areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said.
Political pressure
Brown, who is behind in opinion polls less than a year before parliamentary elections, has faced intense political pressure over Britain’s role in Afghanistan in recent months.
Critics accuse him of sending too few troops to fight the Taliban with insufficient equipment, such as helicopters and armoured patrol vehicles. The latest deaths are likely to reignite the debate over Britain’s strategy.
Brown has denied claims that British soldiers lack resources and manpower and says their presence in Afghanistan is crucial.
“Every effort that we make is to ensure the best security and the best equipment for our troops,” Brown said. “That is why we have increased dramatically the amount of resources we are spending in Afghanistan.”
The rising British death toll and reports of a lack of equipment have eroded support for the war in Britain. A poll for the Times newspaper last month suggested two-thirds of voters want Britain’s 9000 troops to withdraw now or within a year.
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said people must not despair.
“There is a real sense of momentum,” he told BBC television. “We can make real progress over the next year or so.”

Pic: British troops in Afgan