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Britain to Bolster Afghan Force
Associated Press  |  February 23, 2007
LONDON - Britain will soon announce it is bolstering its force in Afghanistan with an extra 1,000 soldiers, British media reported Friday.

Defense Minister Des Browne is expected to address Parliament on Monday to provide lawmakers with details of the deployment, the Guardian newspaper said. The announcement would come less than a week after Prime Minister Tony Blair told lawmakers that Britain will be withdrawing 1,600 of its soldiers from Iraq in coming months.

The defense ministry declined to confirm the reports, which also appeared on Sky and the British Broadcasting Corp.

"We keep our force levels in Afghanistan under constant review to make sure the commanders on the ground have what they need," a defense ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity, in line with government policy. "If we are going to make changes to those force numbers, we announce it to Parliament in the usual way."

The government announced on Feb. 1 that it would send 800 more troops to Afghanistan, and it is unclear whether those 800 troops are included in the 1,000. But Tim Garden, an opposition member of the House of Lords, said announcing an increase in Afghanistan so soon after the decrease in Iraq seems to be strategic planning on the government's part.

"They're making it a balance with the withdraw from Iraq," said Garden, a member of the Liberal Democrat party. "But it won't relive the strain on the British forces."

Britain has more than 5,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, concentrated in volatile southern Helmand province. In all, NATO has about 35,000 troops in and around Afghanistan.

NATO issued a statement earlier this week that the Taliban is planning to increase suicide and roadside bomb attacks in the south and west.

Antonio Giustozzi, a London School of Economics researcher working in Afghanistan, said the alliance has so far been unable to persuade other member countries to deploy to the south.

"British, Americans and Canadians are already complaining quite loudly about the 'combat-shy' approach of the Dutch in Uruzgan (in southern Afghanistan)," he told the Associated Press in an e-mail. "The only solution would therefore be to send more 'gung-ho' troops, like the British."

Giustozzi said Afghanistan isn't a much better alternative to British bases in southern Iraq. Insurgents launch attacks almost daily in Afghanistan's southern provinces, a former Taliban stronghold where the government wields little power.

British troops moved into Helmand, a hub of the global heroin trade, as part of the NATO mission to subdue insurgents and allow a reconstruction program to expand.

Since the beginning of operations in November 2001, 48 British soldiers have been killed.

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