Britain to put more troops in Afghanistan

Britain will send more troops to Afghanistan as the strength of the international force in the country is boosted to counter rising violence, the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said yesterday.

At the same time, the US is to ask its Western allies, especially those who have failed to contribute to the military mission, to provide the bulk of $20 billion (£11bn) needed to more than double the size of the Afghan army from 65,000 to 134,000.

One senior US defence official said: "We feel it is only right that those who have not sent troops should pay towards the cost of the Afghan army. It's not just Nato countries, for example we have Japan, the world's second- biggest economy, who have no troops in Afghanistan. Shouldn't they contribute something?"

The boosting of troop numbers will take place alongside changes in the chain of command which will see the US General David McKiernan put in charge of all American forces in the country, hitherto divided into two separate operations, Mr Gates said.

The Ministry of Defence in London confirmed that several hundred extra troops will be sent to Afghanistan in the next deployment of forces. A spokesman said troop numbers were always being kept under review and were dependant on the situation on the ground.

The US is already committed to initially sending about 8,000 extra troops to Afghanistan. General McKiernan, who had asked for three extra brigades, has now asked for a fourth one to tackle the resurgent Taliban.

Mr Gates said he wanted to see fellow Nato members also play a full part in reinforcing the Western military presence in the country. He stressed that apprehension of a Russian resurgence following the Georgian conflict did not pose a military threat to Western Europe and was not a valid reason for some Nato countries to not send troops to Afghanistan.

The US Defence Secretary said British forces in Afghan-istan were doing an "excellent" job. He added that he did not know how many additional troops Britain may send, but expected to find out in talks with British officials.

An MoD spokesman in London stated that US officials have assured them that Mr Gates' remarks were not an attempt to pre-empt a British announcement, or an attempt to "box-in" the UK on a commitment to increasing troop levels.

Mr Gates also said US and Nato commanders have been asked to review their policy on air strikes, after recent Afghan civilian casualties provoked outrage in the country. The policy of carrying out an investigation before taking any action on "collateral damage" would be reversed, with Western forces publicly apologising and paying compensation before starting an inquiry, he said.

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