British Will Keep Troops in Afghanistan

Earlier today, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that his government will keep British roops in Afghanistan until that country’s army and policy are capable of protecting civilians from Taliban insurgents without the help of NATO forces.  There are currently 9,000 British soldiers in Afghanistan and 31,000 military personnel from other NATO membes aside from the 68,000 American troops operating there.  The prime minister said preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda was important for national security.

Mr. Brown’s decision comes at a critical time when Western forces are struggling to combat a strengthened Taliban insurgency.  Had he decided to withdraw British troops soon, the US or other NATO countries would have had to step up and fill the void, and other alliance members might have felt more comfortable withdrawing their troops to satisfy constituents.  The war effort is growing increasingly unpopular in Europe, where the majority of citizens believe their country’s troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

The Obama administration is considering increasing the size of the American military presence following claims by military commanders that they do not have enough soldiers to succeed in their mission.  The administration is reportedly considering deploying an additional 10,000 to 45,000 troops to Afghanistan.  If 45,000 more soldiers and Marines are added to the American force presence, the number of militay personnel in Afghanistan will approach the amount currently in Iraq.

Whether the British will live up to their promise of keeping 9,000 troops in Afghanistan until local security forces are fully capable of securing their country is doubtful.  It might take a decade or more for that goal to be achieved, if it can be achieved at all, and a lack of public support for continuing the war may for force European governments to pullout.  If that happens, the US may have to go it alone, a policy option that President Obama heavily criticized former President George W. Bush for pursuing in Iraq.


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