Afghanistan: The hokey-cokey strategy

On eve of Obama's surge, Brown aims to convince voters he has a plan for withdrawal. Handover 'could begin by end of 2010' – but PM is set to commit 500 more troops

British troops will begin handing over control of Helmand province to Afghan forces by the end of next year, Gordon Brown claimed yesterday as he set out plans for a withdrawal from Afghanistan after years of bloody fighting and the deaths of 235 British soldiers.

On the eve of President Barack Obama's expected announcement of a deployment of up to 35,000 extra US troops, the Prime Minister laid out a series of milestones for the Kabul government to meet before Britain's commitment can end.

It follows intense public pressure on Mr Brown to scale back Britain's commitment to what many see as an unwinnable and ill-judged war. A poll for The Independent on Sunday earlier this month showed seven out of ten people wanted British troops out of Afghanistan within a year or so.

The announcement enables the Labour leader to go into a spring general election claiming that "Afghanisation" is under way in the country, and that within the year the number of British troops can fall. Yet, with corruption rife and troops engaged in bloody battles with Taliban fighters, such a timetable must be in doubt.

A conference hosted by Mr Brown in London in January will bring together the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, with leaders of Afghanistan's neighbouring countries to map out the political and military strategy for 2010.

Mr Brown will confirm to the Commons as early as tomorrow that Britain's commitment will increase by 500, to 9,500, in Helmand as part of the US-led surge. Yet it will mark the start of a countdown to a lengthy withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On Tuesday evening, in a speech at the US military academy at West Point, President Obama will put a figure on the increased troop commitment after weeks of deliberations with advisers.

He will explain how the US will extract itself from an increasingly unpopular eight-year war in which 930 American soldiers have died, and to which there is no apparent end in sight.

Standing next to the UN Secretary-General at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago yesterday, the Prime Minister insisted he was not setting a timetable for British troops.

But he added: "As we build up the Afghan army from 90,000 to 134,000, and perhaps at a higher level, build up the police from 90,000 to be even stronger and far more effective, there will come a point at which we can transfer more and more districts and more and more provinces to Afghan security control. It's at that point that we would look at what was the need for British troops if the Afghanistan people were able to be responsible for their own security, but not until then."

The key milestones, to be launched at the London summit on 28 January, are: within three months, Kabul to have identified additional Afghan troops to send to Helmand for training; within six months, President Karzai to have a "clear plan" for police training, including dealing with corruption; within nine months, 400 provincial and district governors to be appointed and have control over those areas, including two districts in Helmand; within one year, 5,000 additional Afghan troops to have been trained in Helmand, with the Afghan army increased by nearly 50,000 nationally; also, at least five out of 34 provinces to be under Afghan control.

In a sign that President Karzai is responding to pressure to restore credibility to Afghan security forces, his government announced a pay rise of nearly 40 per cent for police and military recruits. The Interior Minister, Hanif Atmar, said monthly salaries would increase by $45 to about $165 for a new recruit. At present, there are about 95,000 Afghan soldiers and 93,000 police.

Mr Brown said: "My duty to the British people, which is to ensure the security of people against terrorism coming to the streets of Britain, is best discharged by making sure that Afghanistan itself is increasingly able to run its own affairs, so that it will never again provide space for al-Qa'ida. I have set no timetable and will set no timetable about troop numbers, but what I will say is that we are creating milestones and benchmarks by which the process of Afghanisation can be judged."

Mr Brown added: "Britain and the world need protection from the terrorism that starts in the Afghan-Pakistan area, which is the epicentre of modern global terrorism and has got to be dealt with."

Members of the 43-nation coalition in Afghanistan will be represented in London. The conference will be opened by Mr Brown and chaired by Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.

Mr Ban, who spoke to President Karzai by telephone before arriving in Trinidad, said the Afghans needed to take a "lead role" in "shaping their destiny". A follow-up conference will take place in Kabul. Mr Ban said: "These conferences would thus constitute defining words in the reconfiguration of the relationship between Afghanistan and the international community."

President Obama's speech will be followed by two days of joint testimony on Capitol Hill by Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, and Mrs Clinton. No details of the US exit strategy have emerged, but White House officials have indicated that "in eight or nine years" the US will no longer be involved.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maintenance Agreement Manager – Subsea Cables

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Geotechnical Director of Engineering

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Renewables Grid / Power Systems Specialist

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Offshore Wind Package Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: T...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices