Page last updated at 09:52 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 10:52 UK

'No plans' to boost Afghan troops

UK troops in Afghanistan
UK troop numbers are due to increase next spring

Defence Secretary Des Browne has said he has "no plans" to announce more British troops for Afghanistan, after reports they could be increased.

He told the BBC he had made it clear in June that troops numbers would increase by 230 to more than 8,000 next spring.

He said military commanders had not asked for any more troops.

The Daily Telegraph reported that US defence secretary Robert Gates had said UK troops might increase to deal with the threat from the Taleban.

In an interview with the newspaper Mr Gates said: "My understanding is that the UK may increase the size of its force there." He suggested an additional 4,000 soldiers might be sent to Afghanistan to reinforce troops.

'Carefully increase'

But Mr Browne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "As far as our contribution is concerned, I think I have made our commitment in terms of troop levels very clear.

"I last told Parliament on June 16 that we would carefully increase the number of troops by a few hundred to about 8,000 over the period from October, going forward.

We all know the long term answer to Afghanistan depends on building governments and creating economic opportunity
Des Browne
Defence Secretary

"I have no plans to announce, or I am not planning, I have not been asked by military commanders for additional troops."

But he said he and Mr Gates agreed that a greater commitment from Nato was needed, not just troops but getting the "capabilities, equipment and support" for existing forces.

The US has about 30,000 troops in Afghanistan but US commander General David McKiernan has asked the Pentagon for three more brigades, on top of the extra one already announced by the president, that would bring numbers up to nearly 44,000.

Mr Browne told the BBC he was not expecting something on the scale of the US military surge in Iraq as it was a very different theatre to Afghanistan which had to be handled differently.

"It's a question of having more troops on the ground to enable us to secure more ground. We all know the long term answer to Afghanistan depends on building governments and creating economic opportunity."

Asked about US cross-border raids against suspected militant targets in Pakistani territory, Mr Browne said he had been discussing "operational tactics" with Mr Gates who had made it clear that "they need to work with Pakistan".

"Building the capacity of the Pakistanis to be able to hold security their side of the border is the only sustainable answer to the problems we all face around that area," he said.




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