Britain seeks Afghan benchmarks ahead of troop withdrawal
Britain aims to set clear goals in international talks on Afghanistan next year to aid the withdrawal of British troops from the conflict, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Saturday.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and all major contributors to the coalition fighting in Afghanistan as well as regional neighbors will be invited to the London conference on January 28.
“What we need is a political push to match the military push we’re now agreeing to,” Brown told reporters on the sidelines of a Commonwealth summit in Trinidad.
“And that means that President Karzai has got to accept that there will be milestones by which he’s going to be judged and he’s got to accept that there will be benchmarks which the international community will set.”
He was speaking days before President Barack Obama was to unveil a new strategy on Afghanistan on Tuesday, when he is expected to order the deployment of over 30,000 fresh US troops to the conflict.
Brown hopes the conference will draw up clear benchmarks for future military and political strategy in Afghanistan for 2010 and beyond, a Downing Street spokesman confirmed to AFP.
The aim is to gradually hand over responsibility for security to Afghan forces, district by district and province by province, enabling Britain to withdraw its 25,000 troops.
Brown stressed that a timetable for withdrawing British troops from the increasingly unpopular war would only be drafted once the Afghan army and police show they can maintain security.
The hope is that one or two districts in restive southern Helmand province could be transferred in 2010 to Afghan forces, and up to five Afghan provinces by the end of the year, the spokesman said.
“Within three months, our benchmark is that the Afghan government should have identified additional troops to send to Helmand province for training,” Brown said.
“This is part of our idea that we will build up the Afghan army by nearly 50,000 over the next year.
“Within six months, we will want a clear plan for police training that means corruption is being dealt with and we have a police force that works with the local community rather than sometimes against it.”
He also called on Karzai to complete the appointments of 400 governors within nine months.