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Britain Welcomes US Surge in Afghanistan

American President Barack Obama's announcement that 30,000 extra US troops will be sent to Afghanistan has been welcomed by British Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth and Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup today, Wednesday 2 December 2009.

President Obama announced last night that 30,000 more US troops will be sent to Afghanistan in the first part of 2010, bringing US troop strength in the country to more than 100,000.

Mr Obama said that the 30,000 additional troops will target the insurgency and secure key population centres. They will increase America's ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

Mr Obama added that, because this is an international effort, he has asked for contributions from US allies, saying that while some have already provided additional troops, he is confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead.

Announcing the extra 30,000 American troops last night, President Obama said:

"Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.

"We will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul.

"But it will be clear to the Afghan Government - and, more importantly, to the Afghan people - that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country."

British Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has been attending a memorial and thanksgiving service for 19 Light Brigade in Belfast today. The brigade has just returned from a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Welcoming Mr Obama's announcement of 30,000 extra US troops for Afghanistan, Mr Ainsworth said:

"It's great news. 30,000 additional troops, a large chunk of those into the south and, indeed, into Helmand province.

"I think that during 19 Light Brigade's tour there has been substantial change in Helmand, not only as a result of the bravery, the dedication, the determination of our people, but the inflow of American troops as well.

"So we will see more now, more resources, more numbers, and we've got clear commitments from the Afghans to put substantial numbers of soldiers in for us to train, for us to partner with, so that we can make the transition to Afghanisation."

When asked about the aim to hand back parts of Helmand province to Afghan control next year, Mr Ainsworth said:

"We need to have some milestones so that we can show people progress.

"We can't give people the impression that we are going to be here forever, and that is not the plan, so I think it's absolutely right that we lay out some milestones, and there are places already in the south where the potential is there for us to hand over control to the Afghans in the not-too-distant future.

"So we need to keep everyone under the kind of pressure that is needed in order to drive this campaign forward. I think that we can in the next year or so show some real progress in Afghanistan."

On the subject of timetables for withdrawing British troops from Afghanistan, Mr Ainsworth said:

"Well, we're not talking about timetables to leave, but we are talking about timetables for handover.

"We need to drive the Afghanisation process. We can't afford to be in Helmand province without a clear prospect of Afghan capability growing and being able to take over parts of that province.

"Now we've got clear commitments. Gordon Brown has spoken to President Karzai and has got a commitment that we will get 5,000 Afghans to partner with us, another 5,000 to partner with the Americans, in Helmand, and they can't come soon enough. There's a lot of training, a lot of capability that they need to be given. Our people are there waiting to pass on those skills."

"By 2011, I certainly believe that we will be seeing a significant change in the balance between the leadership of these combat operations between ISAF troops and the Afghan National Security Forces."
Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup
Also speaking to the media today about the extra 30,000 US troops, the British Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said:

"I think it's what all of us who have been involved in the operation in Afghanistan have assessed is required if we are to resource a plan to deliver the strategy which we have been holding to for some time now, so I'm delighted."

In response to a question about Mr Obama's statement that he will start withdrawing troops in 2011, Sir Jock said:

"What we have said is that from a military perspective our objective is to get the Afghan National Security Forces into the lead in this counter-insurgency operation.

"I think 2014 is a more realistic target, but of course that's not a step change in 2014, that will be happening gradually between now and then.

"So, by 2011, I certainly believe that we will be seeing a significant change in the balance between the leadership of these combat operations between ISAF troops and the Afghan National Security Forces."

When asked what would the extra US troops mean for British troops in Helmand and who will be in command, Sir Jock said:

"We will be in charge of our own troops in Helmand. We are currently under the regional command of a two-star British General who, of course, is reporting to a three-star American General in Kabul. That remains unchanged.

"The Americans have their own area of operations in Helmand, and although it's a larger geographical area than ours we, nevertheless, the British, continue to provide security for the bulk of the Helmand population.

"So the command and control arrangements will go on unchanged. But what it means for us in Helmand, of course, is what it means for Afghanistan as a whole, which is that we have now a plan drawn up by General McChrystal, which is a coherent plan to deliver our long-term strategy, and we now have the resources necessary for him to execute that plan. That's very important for all of us."


Ainsworth and Stirrup Welcome US Troop Surge in Afghanistan