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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee