Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Saturday, 4 April 2009 16:40 UK

Brown praises Nato troop increase

Gordon Brown: 'A democratic Afghanistan means safer streets in Britain'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has welcomed the decision by Nato countries to deploy more troops to Afghanistan.

Germany, Spain, Portugal and Italy are among those who offered a temporary increase in their forces at the alliance's summit in Strasbourg.

Mr Brown said extra UK troops meant "our streets will be safer in Britain".

But he told Afghan leader Hamid Karzai he had "grave concerns" about an Afghan law which critics say legalises marital rape and attacks women's rights.

'Properly protected'

Mr Brown said Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Poland, Turkey and Croatia would all increase their deployments - joining Germany, which had already made a similar announcement.

Speaking at the close of the summit, he said there was a need for "burden-sharing" over the the "critical months" ahead.

People will not accept that British soldiers are working in Afghanistan to make Afghanistan safe if the rights of women are not being properly upheld
Gordon Brown

"With important presidential elections to come in the next few months, we must not allow the Taliban to disrupt the democratic process," Mr Brown said.

"Britain is therefore prepared to send additional troops as part of a wider Nato effort to strengthen security over the summer and until the elections as well as to ensure that our forces are properly protected from the growing threat of roadside bombs."

The prime minister denied that US President Barack Obama had asked directly for an extra 2,000 UK troops to be permanently deployed, but said the government had not ruled out sending extra forces in future.

'Democratic future'

He also said he had expressed his opposition to Mr Karzai about new measures covering Shia Muslims which campaigners say would legalise rape within marriage and restricts the freedom of women to go out without the their husbands' permission.

The issue "risks putting Afghanistan back to its past rather than towards a democratic future where men and women are treated equally", Mr Brown added.

Nato came into existence in a period when Cold War hostilities had become quite strong. What's the meaning of its existence in today's world?
Deboshree, Delhi

"People will not accept that British soldiers are working in Afghanistan to make Afghanistan safe if the rights of women are not being properly upheld in the country. That is why I have demanded assurances from President Karzai," he said.

The president gave an assurance that he would make a statement on the subject and bring the law back before the Afghan Parliament, Mr Brown said.

The prime minister welcomed the appointment of Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next Nato secretary general, saying the decision by member states had been "unanimous".

But the decision to appoint Mr Rasmussen was attacked by Mohammed Shafiq, the leader of the UK Muslim group the Ramadhan Foundation.

Mr Rasmussen's candidacy had previously been fiercely opposed by Turkey after he defended freedom of speech during the controversy over the decision by a Danish newspaper to print cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

Founded 1949, largely to block Soviet expansion into Europe
Twenty-six member states who vow to defend each other
Militarily dominated by the US
Acted in non-member state for first time in 1995 - implementing military aspects of Bosnia peace accord
Operated outside Europe for first time in 2003 - in Afghanistan

Mr Shafiq said he was "appalled" at the elevation of "a person who refused to condemn the vicious and racist cartoons and is now going to try to build links with Muslim countries".

The summit had been marred when anti-Nato protesters fought police and set buildings alight in Strasbourg.

According to a White House statement, America's Nato allies are committing "up to 5,000" more military personnel to Afghanistan, for training and the election period.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that 900 troops would come from Britain, 600 from Germany and 600 from Spain.

Italy and France were fresh committing forces, too, he added.

There are currently over 70,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, mostly under Nato command. Mr Obama is to send 21,000 additional US troops, while considering a further deployment of 10,000.

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