Blair: We need help to stop Afghan failure

Click to follow
The Independent Online

US and British strategy in Afghanistan was in danger of unravelling last night after appeals for Nato partners to volunteer more troops fell on deaf ears.

Tony Blair joined Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, in warning that Afghanistan could become a "failed state" unless Nato members provide more troops to combat the resurgent Taliban forces.

Their appeal to Nato countries meeting in Mons, Belgium, produced no immediate promises of extra troops. Commanders on the ground demanded an extra 2,500 troops after the British-led Nato forces in Helmand province in the south fought a series of ferocious battles.

Speaking in Downing Street at a press conference with the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Mr Blair said "Nato countries have a duty to respond".

He paid tribute to the "professionalism and commitment" of British forces in Afghanistan. "They are inflicting real damage on the Taliban and al-Qa'ida but it is important that the whole of Nato regards this as their responsibility."

Mr Blair added: "We should never forget that the reason why our troops are in Afghanistan along with other Nato countries is because out of Afghanistan came the terrorism of 9/11. The Taliban and al-Qa'ida training camps for terrorism were the reason why we went there. It is of fundamental importance to the security of this country, never mind the broader world, that we get the job done properly."

Nato spokesman James Appathurai said that "no formal offers were made at the table". Mr Appathurai said there were "positive indications" that some allies might consider providing additional forces but officials now expect no breakthrough before an informal meeting of Nato defence ministers is held on 28 September in Slovenia.

Romania is thought to be prepared to offer around 200 troops though there was no confirmation of that figure yesterday. Britain has contributed the largest share, more than 5,000 troops, of the main force of 18,500 troops from 37 countries, and the Prime Minister's official spokesman made it clear Britain will not send more troops to the area. Poland was under pressure to fill the gap, according to senior Downing Street officials. The US has privately indicated that it may be able to redeploy its forces, possibly to reinforce British troops.

"Poland is interested in helping out and the Americans have said they can make a redeployment," said one senior official. "Condy was not saying it will fail. She was putting pressure on the Nato allies."

The Foreign Office minister Kim Howells said he had spoken to the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, Lt Gen David Richards, and it was clear they needed back-up.

Key Nato countries have made it clear that they will not increase their contribution. They include Germany, Italy, Turkey and Spain, whose Defence Minister, Jose Antonio Alonso, said his country's "military presence will keep on the same level as now because this contribution is all that Spain can offer".

Nor was there any clear sign that countries such as Germany - which has almost 3,000 troops in Afghanistan - are willing to drop their resistance to troops being shifted from the more stable north to the dangerous south.

Though military commanders say they have enough, mainly British and Canadian, soldiers to fulfil their mission, the alliance's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General James Jones, has made a public plea for more troops.

He called for the immediate dispatch of hundreds of rapidly deployable troops supported by attack helicopters and transport planes. General Jones said that Nato troops were entering a "defining period" in Afghanistan in the run-up to the winter.

The mission of British troops has dramatically changed since being deployed in April to replace US forces to protect reconstruction. Military chiefs say that the fighting is some of the most intense encountered by British forces since the Korean War.