Top General Says Britain is Ready to Boost Force in Afghanistan

October 4, 2009 - 11:21 PM
The U.K. is ready to send more soldiers to Afghanistan, if asked to by the commander of the U.S. and NATO forces there, the British army's new chief has been quoted as saying.
US Marines in Afghanistan

U.S. Marines photographed during a firefight with Taliban militants in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009. (AP Photo)

London (AP) – The U.K. is ready to send more soldiers to Afghanistan, if asked to by the commander of the U.S. and NATO forces there, the British army's new chief has been quoted as saying.

Gen. David Richards, who became Britain's army commander in August, told the Sunday Telegraph that a larger NATO force would make it easier to defeat the Taliban and achieve the international community's objectives in Afghanistan. The comment seemed to back the large troop boost widely believed to be sought by U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top coalition commander in Afghanistan.

The Sunday Telegraph quoted Richards as saying that a larger NATO force would make it easier to defeat the Taliban and achieve the international community's objectives in Afghanistan – a statement that seemed to back the large troop boost widely believed to be sought by McChrystal.

"If you put in more troops, we can achieve the objectives laid upon us more quickly and with less casualties," Richards was quoted as saying by the Telegraph in an interview made available late Saturday. "What we need to demonstrate is that we, NATO and the Afghan government, offer a much brighter future which is more secure, with jobs, and education and better health."

While the Pentagon has withheld details of McChrystal's troop request, he is thought to want between 30,000 and 40,000 U.S. soldiers on top of the 68,000 currently fighting in Afghanistan. But there are divisions within President Barack Obama's administration on whether to escalate the U.S. presence there.

Britain, the second-largest contributor to the NATO force with about 9,000 soldiers, is waiting to see whether Obama follows McChrystal's request.

The Telegraph did not quote Richards as giving a specific figure for the number of additional British troops that would be made available if the U.S. asked.

A spokesman for the British military said the numbers would have to be worked out following the Obama's decision, although the U.K. contribution would be expected to rise to over 10,000. The spokesman declined to be named in line with military policy.

Like the United States, Britain suffered a spike in casualties after trying to secure the country ahead of Afghanistan's disputed presidential election. The casualties have undermined support for the war in Britain, but Richards said that defeat for NATO in Afghanistan would threaten neighboring Pakistan and could even lead to terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons.

"If al-Qaeda and the Taliban believe they have defeated us – what next? Would they stop at Afghanistan?" he said. "Pakistan is clearly a tempting target not least because of the fact that it is a nuclear-weaponed state, and that is a terrifying prospect. Even if only a few of those weapons fell into their hands, believe me they would use them."