Obama may ask UK for more troops

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The Independent US

President-elect Barack Obama may ask Britain and other Nato allies to provide more troops for Afghanistan, a senior Democrat suggested today.

Mr Obama promised during his election campaign to deploy at least two more combat brigades to Afghanistan, and Congressman Chris Van Hollen today indicated that the Democratic administration would want Britain and other Nato allies to beef up their own forces.

But Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that the UK was "right" to maintain its existing 8,000-strong military commitment in Afghanistan. Britain would make its own judgment on force levels "as time progresses", he said.

Asked if the UK would turn down a request from the new President for more troops, Mr Miliband told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "We will approach the situation in Afghanistan according to the conditions on the ground. Britain's contribution is a very, very significant contribution at the moment."

And he added: "No-one will ever find Britain stinting in its international responsibilities."

Mr Van Hollen, who chairs the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told World at One: "We have been asking Britain and other Nato allies to put more troops into Afghanistan.

"We think we need more troops. One of the problems in Afghanistan has been that bombing has resulted in more civilian deaths than is acceptable. If we have more troops on the ground we can avoid oftentimes these kinds of civilian deaths which make it more difficult to gain the support of the population."

Mr Miliband said he welcomed Mr Obama's recognition that a "comprehensive approach" was needed to military, economic, social and development problems on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Asked if Britain might provide more troops, the Foreign Secretary replied: "Obviously, the UK is the second-largest troop contributor in Afghanistan at the moment. We have got 8,000 troops in Helmand province.

"We are determined to ensure that we continue to pursue not just a military strategy but also the political and economic strategies.

"I think President-elect Obama has made clear he wants to send more American troops. More French troops are going in and we will obviously make judgments about our own deployment of forces as time progresses. At the moment, we think it is right to have the current level of forces in Afghanistan."

Mr Miliband said Mr Obama had "made history" with his election and Britain was determined to work closely with his administration.

He added: "I hope that a new Obama administration from day one will ensure that a comprehensive approach to all of the problems of the Middle East is at the top of its agenda.

"That is something that not just Americans need and Europeans need, but the whole world needs, and we are determined to work with him on that."

Mr Miliband dismissed Conservative suggestions that Mr Obama's message of "change" was represented in the UK by Tory leader David Cameron.

He told World at One: "I don't think Gordon Brown is John McCain and I certainly don't think David Cameron is Barack Obama."