The Times said:The Times January 31, 2007
Britain is ready to increase Afghanistan troop numbers
Michael Evans in Kabul
Nato to keep up pressure on Taleban
Pakistan border security increased
Britain is set to take on a bigger military role in Afghanistan which could mean more British troops being sent later this year.
British forces are to assume greater responsibility for the south outside Helmand province, where 5,000 British troops are currently based, the head of the Nato force here said yesterday.
General David Richards, the outgoing British commander of Natoâs 32,000strong International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), said that a divisional headquarters, deployed from Britain, with authority throughout southern Afghanistan, was to be set up. It would be based in Kandahar with a remit to deploy troops across the whole region. It will be commanded by Major-General Jacko Page who will bring over his 6th Division headquarters staff in a few months.
Natoâs intention is to have an expanded Isaf force for the south to consolidate the successful actions against the Taleban during the past nine months. This could lead to more British combat troops being sent later in the year. The Government in London is already considering sending an extra infantry battalion to Helmand in March because of the continuing high level of fighting.
The expanded command role for Britain in the south will coincide with a proposed Isaf spring campaign to drive hard-core Taleban forces out of Helmand, General Richards said. But the British would be helped for the first time by the establishment of a new American mobile reserve force of about 1,000 troops from the 10th Mountain Division to be based in neighbouring Kandahar.
Speaking before handing over his command in Afghanistan to an American general this weekend, General Richards said: âPeople talk of an expected Taleban spring offensive but the only spring offensive will be Natoâs.â
As well as focusing more on Helmand this year, extra Isaf troops are also going to be packed along the border with Pakistan, backed by additional high-tech surveillance equipment, to try to stop the flow of Taleban into Afghanistan.
General Richards summed up what he felt had been achieved in battles with the Taleban during his nine-month command.
âIn the short term we havenât removed the threat of the Taleban but we have contained it,â he said, adding that he had never had all the assets he would have liked to take on the Taleban. He said that Nato had achieved âpsychological ascendancyâ over the Taleban.
About 40,000 foreign troops are deployed in Afghanistan. There are 4,300 British troops in Helmand and 1,300 in Kabul
The Nato ISAF has been in Afghanistan since 2003
About 518 foreign soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001