Suicide attack piles pressure on Obama and Brown

Prime Minister says Nato will send another 5,000 troops to Afghanistan
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The Independent Online

Barack Obama declared yesterday that his long-awaited decision on sending reinforcements to Afghanistan would come soon. But as the US President was declaring his determination on "getting this right", the Taliban issued a bloody reminder of the stakes in Kabul, carrying out a suicide attack on a US convoy in the Afghan capital.

Mr Obama, on a tour of Asia, went on to reiterate that there will be no "open-ended commitment" in the conflict. But, despite weeks of debate, the President and his team avoided talking about the specifics of any new plan.

There are still divides amongst Mr Obama's advisers, but the issues have again been brought into sharp focus by Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador in Afghanistan, whose leaked memos opposing a new deployment emerged on Wednesday. That revelation exposed a damaging rift with the American military commander, General Stanley McChrystal, who has warned the war may be lost unless up to 40,000 more troops are sent.

Speaking at a US military base on the way to Japan, Mr Obama continued to hedge. He told American troops: "I will not risk your lives unless it is necessary to America's vital interests. And, if it is... we'll give you the strategy and the clear mission you deserve. We'll give you the equipment and support you need to get the job done."

In London, meanwhile, Gordon Brown claimed that his lobbying had prompted Nato countries to provide another 5,000 troops. He said: "I have taken the responsibility of asking others in Europe, and outside Europe actually, if they will back this strategy. We need our Nato allies to help. I think we can probably get another 5,000 forces into Afghanistan..."

There was, however, surprise in both defence and diplomatic circles over Mr Brown's assertion about the numbers. The UK has agreed to send another 500 troops, the Turks may send several hundred more and the Germans said that they may augment their force by another 100. "We don't know where the other 4,000 will be coming from," said a senior military officer.

There was also surprise in Kabul at Mr Brown's assurance that the Afghan President Hamid Karzai was willing to tackle corruption. Western diplomats say the Afghan President has done nothing to deal with the endemic corruption surrounding his government.

Mr Karzai's inauguration is set to take place next Friday. The Taliban have threatened to disrupt the proceedings. In yesterday's attack, a car packed with explosives was detonated outside Camp Phoenix, a US base in Kabul, injuring four US soldiers and four security contractors.

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