Hopes raised for extra Afghanistan troops

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The Independent Online

The deployment of 500 extra British troops to Afghanistan came a step closer today when Gordon Brown declared himself "optimistic" of securing 5,000 reinforcements from other allies.

Burden sharing by the rest of the coalition is the last of the conditions placed on the UK's boost by the Prime Minister which remains to be fulfilled.

But in a letter to Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Mr Brown said he was confident UK efforts to persuade partners other than the US to contribute had been successful.

The PM despatched his senior foreign policy adviser Simon McDonald and Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth to 10 countries to encourage them to increase their troop numbers.

"The Prime Minister is now optimistic on progress following that series of meetings and that a majority of the countries we have been talking to will increase their troop numbers," his spokesman said.

The letter gave no details of which countries have been signed up or how many they are each prepared to contribute.

US President Barack Obama is expected to make his own announcement on an American troop surge next week - after months of deliberation with his key military advisers.

The PM's spokesman said the exact timescale for deploying the extra British troops was down to military chiefs but they were "ready in principle to go".

Mr Brown told MPs at question time in the Commons that he expected an announcement from the White House next week.

"I believe that next week we will see the American government and the rest of Nato coming together in a strategy that will mean we will have the forces that are necessary so that we can create the space for a political solution in Afghanistan that means that our streets will be safer."

The Prime Minister hopes to host a summit of allies in London in January to discuss the strategy and a timetable for eventual withdrawal.

In his letter to Mr Rasmussen, he said there needed to be a "much fairer burden sharing arrangement in Afghanistan, across Nato and the coalition".

He told the Nato chief: "In the last week, I have asked my ministers and senior officials to pursue this effort with 10 key coalition partners, focusing on increased troop commitments in the New Year.

"Following these meetings and contacts, I am now optimistic that a majority of these countries will indeed make available increased numbers of troops, and more police trainers and civilian support.

"As we discussed, it is of course essential that the purpose of the presence of international forces in Afghanistan is clear. In addition to offering security, they must train and mentor the Afghan armed forces and police so that, over time, they can take responsibility for the security of their country."

The PM's spokesman said the 5,000 - which excludes Britain's promised 500 - would be made up almost entirely of troops.

In the Commons, Mr Brown also hailed progress being made by Afghan president Hamid Karzai in tackling corruption since his contentious re-election.

"He has now announced an anti-corruption taskforce and I gather 12 people were arrested yesterday from within the core administration," he told MPs.

It was still important, however, to ensure that Mr Karzai's pledges were all "met in the delivery", he added.

Mr Obama said yesterday, after a final meeting of his war council, that his decision would be made public, but specified only that it would be after Thanksgiving on Thursday.

It is more than three months since the US administration began deliberating a report from the US commander on the ground, General Stanley McChrystal, which calls for an additional 40,000 troops.

Speculation has mounted in the US that the president will unveil a surge of around 34,000 additional soldiers.