- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

LONDON — Britain said yesterday it would send additional troops to southern Afghanistan in response to NATO’s call to bolster forces in the region, days after the country said it plans to withdraw 1,600 troops from Iraq in coming months.

Defense Minister Des Browne confirmed the deployment in a statement late yesterday.

“We have decided that it is right for the UK to provide some additional forces for the southern region,” Mr. Browne said, adding he would announce full details in Parliament on Monday.

The Defense Ministry refused to confirm reports in the British press that an additional 1,000 troops were to be sent.

Mr. Brown said the government made the decision after a NATO defense ministers meeting last week in Seville, Spain, where the alliance asked countries to send more troops.

“NATO must respond to this request, or we will put at risk everything we have achieved across Afghanistan in the last five years,” he said.

“We have been trying hard to get other nations to live up to the joint commitment NATO made to Afghanistan and provide more forces, forces which are authorized to fight. We will continue to press. But we must be realistic,” he said.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair told lawmakers that Britain will be withdrawing 1,600 of its troops from Iraq in the next few months and hopes to make other cuts to its 7,100-strong contingent by late summer.

Britain has more than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan, concentrated in the southern part of the country — a former Taliban stronghold where the government wields little power. In all, NATO has about 35,000 troops in and around Afghanistan.

NATO issued a statement earlier this week that the Taliban is planning to increase suicide and roadside bomb attacks in the south and west.

A senior Taliban commander told Reuters news agency yesterday that new weapons have strengthened the militia.

“This year will prove to be the bloodiest for the foreign troops. It is not just a threat, we will prove it,” Mullah Dadullah said by satellite phone. “The Taliban’s war preparations are going on in caves and in mountains. Our 6,000 fighters are ready for attacks on foreign troops after the change in weather and as it becomes warmer.”

Mullah Dadullah said the extra weapons the Taliban were being supplied — he did not say from where — included the ability to bring down the NATO and U.S. helicopters crucial to their operations in this rugged, mountainous country.

Several European nations have resisted pressure to send more units to Afghanistan, especially to the south and east. In particular, the reluctance of France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Turkey to provide more combat troops has caused frustration among nations on the front lines. The United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands have provided most of the troops in the south.

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