13 Jul 2009

PM defends Afghanistan strategy as British deaths mount

9:27 am on 13 July 2009

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has insisted his government has the right strategy in Afghanistan, after British military deaths surpassed the number of dead in the Iraq war.

Mr Brown said on Saturday that the last few days had been "extraordinarily difficult" as British fatalities rose to 184 after the announcement on Friday that eight men had been killed in a 24-hour period.

But he said British troops are winning the battle against Taliban insurgents in their heartlands of Helmand in southern Afghanistan.

"While I know there are some who have questioned our strategy, I continue to believe our strategy is the right one," Mr Brown wrote in a letter to MPs.

"I can report the assessment of commanders on the ground: that the current operations are succeeding in their objectives.

"They are having a marked impact on the Taliban in central Helmand, will improve security for the population in the run-up to the elections, and will allow longer-term work on governance and development to begin."

In a coordinated government attempt to boost waning support for the conflict as casualties rise, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said troops in Afghanistan are locked in a battle "for the future of Britain".

Mr Miliband said Britain will not be secure until it has established security in Afghanistan, and it is vital to prevent the country again becoming an "incubator for terrorism" and a launch pad for attacks on the West.

Finance minister Alistair Darling pledged that British troops fighting in Afghanistan would get whatever equipment they needed, as the latest deaths led to questioning of the government's financial commitment to the troops.

"If they need equipment, whatever it is, to support them in the frontline then of course the government, through the Treasury, is ready to help," Mr Darling told the BBC, without giving figures.