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British Prime Minister Defends Afghanistan Policy


British Prime Minister Gordon Brown staunchly defended his government's Afghanistan policy and said troops would stay until Afghan forces can go it alone to defend the country. The prime minister's comments come amid rising casualties among British troops in Afghanistan and growing unease at home about the conflict.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain's military action in Afghanistan remains crucial in fighting terrorism and keeping Britain and its allies safe from further terrorist attacks.

Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, Mr. Brown said Britain cannot walk away. He said British troops would stay on in Afghanistan for the time being, but promised increased emphasis on training the Afghan military and police to take over responsibility for security.

"We will have succeeded when our troops are coming home because the Afghans are doing the job themselves," said the British prime minister.

Britain has more than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan about one third of them involved in anti-insurgency operations in Helmand province. And it's there that an increasing number of soldiers are being killed on an almost daily basis, many by roadside bombs.

The rising death toll has caused unease at home in Britain and has sparked growing criticism of the government's handling of the war.

On Thursday, a close aide to British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth resigned in protest over the war. The aide, Eric Joyce, said he did not believe the public would continue to accept fighting terrorism as justification for British soldiers dying in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Brown acknowledged the price has been high. He said that when he meets the families of those killed in action, or soldiers who've been injured he does ask himself if the government is doing the right thing.

"And every time I ask myself, as I do, these questions my answer is yes, we are taking the right action, the action that is necessary to safeguard both our country and promote security in the world," said the prime minister.

Mr. Brown said Britain was right to go to war to topple the Taliban and their al Qaida allies in 2001. He acknowledged that the situation today is serious with threats emanating from insurgents inside Afghanistan as well as from across the border in the mountains of Pakistan. But, he insisted that a secure Afghanistan is crucial for the safety of Britain.

Despite such arguments, opinion polls show waning public support for the war in both Britain and the United States.

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