Britain wants a full Afghan army in place by November 2010 and will only consider sending more troops to Afghanistan if equipment levels are adequate, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said today.
Worsening violence in Afghanistan this year has raised questions about the NATO coalition’s strategy in fighting the Taliban, leading some to push for more troops and others to urge a change of direction.
Britain, which has about 9000 soldiers on the ground, wants to see the Afghan army and police take on a bigger role as soon as possible.
Ainsworth told the Labour party’s annual conference in Brighton he wanted 4000 Afghan soldiers trained every month, up from the current 2000, “so the Afghan army reaches its target strength by November next year, ahead of schedule.”
Training up the Afghan army quicker would likely speed up any timetable for withdrawing British troops from a conflict that is becoming increasingly unpopular in Britain, although military commanders have warned that success is long way off.
“We can’t put a time limit on this,” Ainsworth said. “But we are making progress and we need to see significantly more in the next year or so.”
More British soldiers have died in Afghanistan than in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, forcing the government to go to great lengths to justify its involvement in the eight-year-old US-led mission.
“Before I agree to any increase in troop numbers, I must be sure that the balance of risks is acceptable by evaluating the capacity of the supply chain to properly equip an increased force,” Ainsworth said.
Pic: Flag of the British Army