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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 20:04 GMT
UK cool on extra Afghan troops
Tony Blair and Hamid Karzai
Mr Blair held talks with the Afghan leader
Tony Blair promised continued British backing for the rebuilding of Afghanistan during talks in Downing Street with interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.

But the prime minister stopped short of agreeing to Mr Karzai's request for extra troops above and beyond commitments already made by Britain and the rest of the international community.

Both men had words of praise for the other during a Downing Street press conference, with Mr Karzai hailing the bravery of the British premier for flying to Afghanistan while terrorists still operated in his country.

Peacekeepers
5,000 to be deployed by mid-February
To be under UN mandate
Around 2,800 in place already
Britain to deploy about 1,500 troops
Other key contributors include Germany, France and Spain
Other countries will provide aircraft and other equipment

He said: "Afghanistan could not have been freed from the occupation of terrorism, from the presence of terrorism, without the help of the friends that we have, without the presence of your troops there, without the sacrifice they made, and without the contribution you made."

Mr Karzai's visit came as reports suggested up to 60 people had been killed in heavy violence as rival warlords grapple for power in the Afghan town of Gardez in Paktia province, south of Kabul.

On Wednesday he appealed to the United Nations Security Council to commit more troops to prevent factional fighting, warning that the future stability of the country would otherwise be in jeopardy.

Marines at Bagram Airport
A total of 1,500 UK troops will be in Afghanistan
The current British-led force will soon reach its planned size of 5,000 in Kabul and Mr Blair has pledged to provide long-term help to Afghanistan as the country recovers from Taleban rule.

But Mr Karzai, who has the backing of the exiled King Zahir Shah, wants the force to be rolled out across the entire country, an aim that would require a commitment of many thousands more troops.

"All the delegations that have come to see us from the provinces in Kabul have asked for the increased presence of the security force and asked for it to come to areas where it may be needed," he said.

Mr Blair replied that the UK's leadership of the force was there but "it is for a limited period for obvious reasons".

Support

Mr Karzai's arrival in London, where he was met by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw before going on to address the cabinet, comes after meetings at the UN and talks with US President George W Bush in Washington.

After arriving in Downing Street he joined ministers for 10 minutes at the end of their weekly Cabinet meeting.

He thanked Mr Blair for his support, adding, of Afghanistan: "We had lost it, but now we have won it again."

In response Mr Blair said that the establishment of the interim government had been "way beyond the dreams of many of us".

Later, the Afghan leader denied he was disappointed no more British troops had been committed.

"Britain was part of the coalition that defeated terrorism in Afghanistan. Britain was the first to establish the security force.

"How could we ask for any more than that?"

'Action over rhetoric'

Mr Karzai's interim defence minister is also in London for talks with the Ministry of Defence about its possible role in training a new Afghan army.

The Afghan leader also met Tory leader Iain Duncan smith, as well as Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell.

After his meeting with Mr Karzai, shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram said they had discussed the need for future help to rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure.

"We must always be very careful we do not get carried away with the rhetoric," Mr Ancram said, pressing ministers to focus on what could be delivered.

Mr Campbell stressed the need for a larger stability force and said that without a substantial American contribution, it was unrealistic to expect that force to operate much further than Kabul.

Mr Bush told Mr Karzai on Wednesday that US forces would help to train a new Afghan military, but he made clear he would not commit American troops for peacekeeping duties.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Robbins
"Karzai is looking to Britain to send more soldiers"
Mr Karzai and Mr Blair talk to the BBC's Alex Brodie
"We must look at results"
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
"There are chances of real progress"
Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai
"I thank the people of Britain for their contribution"
See also:

31 Jan 02 | South Asia
Karzai came and all but conquered
31 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair adopts presidential pose
31 Jan 02 | South Asia
Fighting threatens Afghan peace
30 Jan 02 | Americas
Karzai asks UN for bigger force
27 Jan 02 | South Asia
Controversy clouds Karzai's US visit
23 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Afghans 'almost fired on UK troops'
08 Jan 02 | South Asia
Blair pledges support for Afghan people
31 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Tories attack Blair's world ambition
31 Jan 02 | South Asia
Afghan leadership suffers setback
31 Jan 02 | South Asia
Fighting setback for Afghan leaders
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