KABUL (Reuters), Aug 21 – Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Thursday Britain would put more resources into training the Afghan army and pledged an extra $120 million for development in the country which has seen a surge in Taliban violence this year.
More than 70,000 foreign troops, including British soldiers, are engaged in a bitter struggle to put down a Taliban insurgency that is now entrenched in the south and east and beginning to encroach on formerly safe areas close to the capital, Kabul.
“In the future we will put more resources into the training and mentoring of the Afghan army,” Gordon Brown told a news conference in Kabul alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Military leaders say that while international troops can help suppress the insurgency, the long-term key to security is strengthening the Afghan security forces.
“There are now 60,000 in the Afghan army, I believe the figures will go up from 60,000 to 80,000 and then 120,000,” Brown said. “I believe that in time the figure for the Afghan army, given the size of this country, may need to be even higher than 120,000.”
Brown also pledged an additional $120 million for a internationally administered trust fund that channels aid to the Afghan government. The money would be used to pay teachers’ salaries and fund development work, especially healthcare.
Brown’s visit to comes at a time of heightened tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with Afghan leaders accusing their neighbor of allowing the Taliban sanctuaries to launch cross-border attacks, a charge Islamabad denies.
The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a hotbed for al Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgents, who have stepped up their guerrilla and bombing campaign in Afghanistan this year to oust Karzai’s pro-Western government and drive out foreign troops.
“We emphasized the importance of better co-operation between the two countries particularly in dealing with the insurgents that are coming across the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan,” Brown said.
“Pakistan and the problem of terrorism there, and coming from there, is something that has to be raised with the Pakistani government, and I will continue to do so,” he said.
The insurgents have been engaging foreign and government troops almost daily, taking the fight to heavily fortified bases in sometimes brazen suicide attacks or with well organized units numbering dozens of fighters.
Britain has some 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, which Brown said were being “reconfigured” to include more secondments to the Afghan army and to tackle the Taliban’s new guerrilla tactics.
Ten French soldiers were killed on Tuesday in an ambush by Taliban militants in a volatile area east of Kabul and Brown said the British army should brace itself for more casualties.
Some 116 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since they joined the U.S.-led invasion of the country in late 2001.
Brown, who earlier met with British troops at a base in the southern province of Helmand, also said he would stress to Karzai the need to root out corruption in his administration.
“Sort out the government so that we have a full attack on corruption, (so that) we deal with the problem of narcotics,” Brown said when asked what his message would be to Karzai.
Frustration is growing among many Afghans and foreign leaders over rampant corruption and a booming heroin trade.
Brown said a lot of foreign aid was going into the country: “We want to see on the ground the delivery of the results.”