Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Miliband denies UK troops claim

Miliband says he does not think increasing troop numbers alone is 'the answer'

David Miliband has denied reports that an extra 2,000 British troops will be sent to Afghanistan.

During a visit to the country, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme these figures were based on "speculation".

Ministers were believed to have been considering sending reinforcements to Afghanistan to meet an expected request from US President-elect Barack Obama.

Mr Miliband refused to rule out sending more troops, but told Today the military burden needed to be shared.

Asked about reports an extra 2,000 British troops will be sent, he said: "It is certainly invented as far as I'm concerned. I haven't seen any papers coming to me saying they need 2,000 more."

The Ministry of Defence made coherent and organised assessments and would not send troops on "the basis of plucking numbers" out of air, Mr Miliband added.

He said he wanted to ensure that if Mr Obama asked Britain to send more troops, any deployment would be part of a clear military, political and economic strategy.

He said: "Any question of more troops depends on what they would do and if it is part of a genuine comprehensive strategy.

"The biggest source of new troops is the Afghanistan National Army."

Saying the government was looking forward to working with the Obama administration on the issue, he added: ""It is their top priority and a very high priority for us."

Mr Miliband urged other European countries to respond to American requests for help by sharing the burden more fairly.

"We want to make sure we're playing our full role, but equally we've got to make sure that all countries are bearing their fair share of the burden and that's the discussion we will have," he said.

"The Germans have increased the number of troops - ditto the French, but we want to make sure that there is a clear strategy, it balances the economic, the political and the security, and it requires a fair effort from the whole of the international coalition."

The foreign secretary described civilian casualties as "a real blow" and said: "There is no point denying that. It is something we have to work on with the Afghanistan government.

David Miliband and Hamed Karzai
David Miliband spoke to Afghan President Hamed Karzai

"When innocent civilians are killed, their brothers and sisters ask why we are here.

"The critical thing is that we hold our hands up when things go wrong and that we insist that the vast bulk of the security work being done by British and coalition troops is to protect this country not to attack it."

Mr Miliband's visit comes a day after a Royal Marine who served with 45 Commando was killed in southern Afghanistan.

The foreign secretary said now was an opportunity for Pakistan and Afghanistan to work closely with America.

"We have got a very strong interest in the security of the Afghanistan people and if Afghanistan becomes an incubator of terrorism, we will all suffer, " he said.

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins, in Helmand, said Mr Miliband was in the country because he wanted to "get a first-hand feel for life in Britain's front line".

Our correspondent said the foreign secretary was "well aware that while British people overwhelmingly support the troops, there are strong signs of a growing feeling they should be brought home".

Mr Miliband, who is due to visit neighbouring Pakistan next, spoke to military and political leaders in Afghanistan, including the President, Hamed Karzi, during his trip.

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