Page last updated at 23:19 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Helmand to get more Afghan troops

British marines in Helmand
More Afghan troops will be trained by UK troops in Helmand, Mr Brown said

Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai is to provide 5,000 troops to help hold ground taken by British forces in Helmand, Gordon Brown has told MPs.

The prime minister said UK forces would train and mentor them before allowing the Afghans to "hold ground and free our forces for other tasks".

He also expects more allies will pledge to increase troops in Afghanistan.

Mr Brown later told Metro that Mr Karzai backed his plan for a "clear timetable" for a security handover.

The prime minister told the newspaper: "I talked, yesterday, to President Karzai about 5,000 Afghan trainees coming into Helmand so that we can train them up and they can then take responsibility for the control and holding ground in these areas.

"As we do that we will be able to - district by district - hand over control to the Afghan army.

"That doesn't mean to say that our troops can immediately leave but it does mean that our troops can do different things as we try to train up the Afghan army in all the parts of Helmand."

Tory leader David Cameron had urged a military surge in Afghanistan saying "we cannot go on as we are" alternately taking and losing ground.

In the Commons debate following the Queen's Speech, Mr Cameron urged "a military surge to protect the populated areas and increase the rate at which we train up the Afghans, combined, vitally, with a proper political strategy".

He also called for a "strong international figure" to drive forward coalition policy in Afghanistan.

The prime minister told MPs he had spoken to President Karzai and his defence minister on Tuesday.

'Fairer burden sharing'

They had agreed to provide Afghan forces "who will be trained in Helmand, troops who will partner the British forces, be mentored by them", Mr Brown said.

He also said he had approached eight countries and asked them to contribute to an increase in Nato troops in Afghanistan.

Slovakia had already announced it would double troops and Mr Brown said he expected further announcements from others in the next few days.

"We cannot go on as we are, taking ground, sometimes at great cost, only to relinquish it later to the Taliban
David Cameron

"I expect there will be fairer burden sharing in the next stage of our effort," he said.

Mr Brown repeated his hope, expressed in a speech on Monday, that Nato would be able to hand over control "district by district" to Afghans.

"In that way we will allow, over time, our troops to be able to come home," he said.

Mr Cameron also pressed Mr Brown on when an announcement might be expected from US President Barack Obama on the deployment of more US troops to Afghanistan.

He questioned whether the PM was "being fully involved in all the consultations".

Last week Mr Brown said an announcement was expected "in a few days" but that was contradicted by a White House spokesman who said an announcement was still "weeks and not days" away.

Downing Street said at the time Mr Brown had been using the phrase "in the vernacular" but he repeated it on Wednesday telling MPs: "Our strategy on Afghanistan is the same as will be announced by President Obama in the next few days."

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged member countries to send more troops to Afghanistan.

The UK has 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and is willing to send another 500 - if other Nato countries - excluding the US - provide a further 5,000 troops.

After a summer of heavy casualties for British forces and amid some calls for troops to pull out of Afghanistan, Mr Brown said on Monday that he hoped control of some districts could be handed to local control from 2010.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Tuesday the war in Afghanistan was not a "war without end" but stressed the need for a "clear political strategy" so as not to leave a "vacuum which the Taliban will quickly fill".

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