Reinforcements for Afghanistan ‘within a month’

Author: By Kim Sengupta and Andrew Grice

Gordon Brown rejected a request from commanders this year for an extra 2,000 to 2,500 soldiers and sent a temporary force of 700 to provide security for the Afghan elections.

Officials said the resultant furore had prompted Downing Street to signal it would almost certainly accept a new proposal to increase numbers. The Armed Forces minister Bill Rammell indicated a decision may be “imminent” and a review would take place after the Afghan elections in less than a month. He said that troop numbers were “kept under review jointly by the service chiefs, ministers and the Prime Minister”.

A reserve force of about 1,000 is believed to be on standby. Brigadier James Cowan, the commander of 11 Light Brigade which deploys to Helmand in the autumn, said sending the force would be a “political decision”.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, the outgoing head of the Army, and his successor, General Sir David Richards, favour an increase of up to 2,500. It is expected the Government will initially announce that the 700-strong “temporary” force will become permanent.

Mr Brown said Taliban leaders who renounced using force could be welcomed into talks on Afghanistan’s future.

He was responding to an article in The Independent by Lord Ashdown which called for a “strategy for insurgent reconciliation” and a “route back for the Taliban”. Mr Brown said: “If we can persuade, as part of our strategy of building Afghan institutions, those people who embraced violence in the past to come over and… support the democratic process, then that is something we want to encourage.”

The Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown said in an interview, “we definitely don’t have enough helicopters” but later clarified he had been “making the point… that while there are without doubt sufficient resources in place for current operations, we should always do what we can to make more available on the front line”.

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