Brown expected to raise Afghan troop numbers

Prime Minister Gordon Brown will make a statement on Afghanistan today amid expectations he will announce a modest increase in British troop levels.
Worsening violence in the US-led eight-year war with the Taliban has triggered calls for a change of strategy, including the possibility of NATO forces sending more troops to try to stabilise larger areas of Afghanistan, Reuters reports.
Britain has just over 9000 troops on the ground and according to media reports Brown will announce he is prepared to send another 500.
Troop numbers were increased from 8300 over the summer to boost security in the run up to a national election.
But a sharp rise in military casualties has fuelled public dissatisfaction over Britain’s involvement in a conflict that has now cost more British troop lives than the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The past year has been the most deadly for British forces in Afghanistan, with more than 50 fatalities since June, taking the total in the eight-year conflict to 221. Brown’s spokesman said the prime minister would make his announcement to the Commons at 12:30 pm.
“Any decisions on troop numbers would be subject to a number of conditions, including that they should be properly equipped and that we are in agreement with our other allies about what we need to do on the ground,” the spokesman said.
Critics including some senior military commanders have accused the government of failing to provide troops with enough of the correct equipment.
British lawmakers said yesterday that military vehicles and helicopters in Afghanistan were suffering from a shortage of spare parts, with equipment in Britain being cannibalised to fill gaps.
The Conservatives, leading in opinion polls ahead of an election due by next year, have said troop numbers should only be increased to help train the Afghan army and bring forward the day that British soldiers could return home.
Brown’s spokesman said if there was an increase in troops it was possible they would be involved in training, but not exclusively. There are now more than 100 000 Western troops in the warzone most of them American.
The United States has 65 000 troops there and is expected to raise that figure to 68 000 later this year.
President Barack Obama is considering a recommendation to boost his force with a further 40 000 troops next year.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said yesterday he would welcome more American troops, but said the number should be determined by military experts.

Pic: UK troop