- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Britain’s defense and foreign secretaries were weighing in with U.S. counterparts Wednesday on a U.S. review of policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ahead of a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, British Defense Secretary John Hutton said Britain was closely involved in the U.S. review and is offering expertise from its long history of interaction with the Pakistani military and operations in the region.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband was also talking to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Wednesday about the review, an extensive evaluation of U.S. strategy in the region ordered by President Barack Obama and nearing completion.

Hutton said that Britain was particularly focused on bolstering security on Pakistan’s border with Helmand province in Afghanistan, where many of Britain’s nearly 9000 forces in the country are engaged.

“The U.K. and Pakistan have very close connections. Military to military, we have very close relationships,” he said. “We want to help develop Pakistan’s military capability to deal with the threat of al-Qaida and Taliban.”

He also praised Obama’s decision to bolster U.S. forces in Afghanistan. When asked if he shared the U.S. president’s assessment that Western forces were not winning the war against the Taliban and al-Qaida, Hutton said that he would describe the fight as a stalemate.

“Stalemate is not good enough,” he said.

He said that Britain was working with the United States to persuade European countries to make bigger security and development contributions in Afghanistan over the long term because the Taliban is trying to outlast Western resolve.

Britain has the second largest contingent of combat troops in Afghanistan after the United States and has lost 152 personnel since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.

Ahead of his meeting with Gates Wednesday, Hutton also announced a major arms purchase in the Joint Strike Fighter program. He said that Britain would buy test aircraft giving a boost to one of the U.S. Defense Department’s largest weapons programs.

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