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Cameron to up Afghan troops

DAVID Cameron is to send hundreds of extra troops to Afghanistan.

Defence chiefs want more army engineers and police trainers to support the fledgling Afghan government.

About 300 soldiers, many of them from part-time TA units, will be sent to Afghanistan this summer.

They will be used to expand military support teams working in areas that have recently been cleared of the Taliban. Yesterday the Prime Minister held talks with Afghan President Harmid Karzai before having lunch with his defence chiefs, including his new National Security Adviser Sir Peter Ricketts, at his country retreat Chequers.

President Karzai was the first international leader to visit Mr Cameron since he became Prime Minister on Tuesday.

Mr Karzai is stopping in the UK on the way back from a week of talks with the Obama administration in the US, ahead of a peace gathering - or “jirga” - to be held in his country at the end of this month and the Kabul Conference on July 20.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister was delighted to invite President Karzai to Chequers, the first formal visit by an international leader since the election.

“They discussed President Karzai’s very successful visit to Washington, and the prospects for the peace jirga in Afghanistan at the end of May. Both the President and Prime Minister agreed that the relationship between Afghanistan and Britain should be further strengthened.

“The President and the Prime Minister expressed their admiration for the courage and skill of the British military in Afghanistan, and the sacrifices that British forces have made.”

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the new Prime Minister had made Afghanistan “our top priority in foreign affairs” and would work with the US and international community to support Nato’s strategy.

Mr Hague travelled to Washington on Friday for talks with Hilary Clinton, and he said: “This is a crucial year, this may be a decisive year in Afghanistan. It is vital that we continue to make the military progress, the security progress, on the ground.

“Progress is being made but now we have to see an effective political process as well, and that is what the US has been working on so well this week, and that’s where our British efforts with President Karzai and his government will come in over the coming weeks in a strongly co-ordinated way."

Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, most of them on the front line of the struggle with the Taliban in Helmand province.

But defence chiefs know they need to speed up the work being done alongside the Afghan government to develop schools, clinics, roads and other vital developments.

A source at the Ministry of Defence said: “We have enough combat troops but we need more engineers, so we can speed up the nation building work.

“And ahead of the battle for Kandahar, we need more Afghan police to take control of the city and that means we need more people to train them.”

Speaking to the News of the World, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said Kandahar was now a top priority.

He said: “This summer will see the coalition bring greater security to Kandahar, where the Taliban are strongest. It is a tough fight.

“We will bring the troops home as soon as we can when their mission is achieved.

“We are not trying to create a perfect democracy in Afghanistan; we are there primarily to protect Britain’s national security.

“Our Forces will get the support they need. We will not let them down.”



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