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British PM Rules Out More Troops for Afghanistan

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Tom Rivers

On his first trip to Afghanistan as prime minister, David Cameron met Thursday with President Hamid Karzai.  The new British leader stressed that Afghanistan is his country's top foreign affairs issue, while at the same time, ruling out any further troop deployments.

But Cameron promised more money would be made available to counter the threat of roadside bombs to British troops.  

Standing next to President Karzai, Prime Minister Cameron cited what he called the long, important relationship between the two countries and the importance his new coalition government places on the British mission in Afghanistan.

"For me, the issue of Afghanistan is the most important foreign policy issue, the most important national security issue for my country, and it is that national security approach that I want to stress here today," said Cameron.  "It is my number one priority.  That is why I was so pleased to welcome President Karzai as my first visitor to Chequers as he said.  It is why I formed a national security council immediately on talking office and it is why I have made this visit to Afghanistan very early on since becoming prime minister."

Speaking at a joint news conference with President Karzai in Kabul, Mr. Cameron repeated a line often delivered by the former Labor government; namely, that the aim is to get the Afghans to get to a point where they can take control of their own security and own destiny.

But time itself has become an important factor in the equation of public opinion.  The NATO mission in Afghanistan has now lasted longer than the Vietnam war.  Polls repeatedly show that the British public is growing increasingly weary of the conflict.  The British economy is in rough shape and a planned defense review by Cameron's government is expected to slash expenditures.

Under this backdrop, the British leader said that the next 12 months in particular must prove to be successful.

"I have described this year, and the president I know agrees, in terms of the NATO mission in Afghanistan as the vital year.  This is the year when we have to make progress, progress for the sake of the Afghan people, but progress also on behalf of people back at home who want this to work and want to see real progress this year," said Cameron.

That, Prime Minister Cameron said, includes not only the military aspects of the Afghan mission, but also progress in the political sphere in areas like reconciliation and reintegration.

Specifically on the military front, he promised more financial support directly where it is needed most.

"My biggest duty as prime minister of the United Kingdom is to our armed forces and to make sure they have all of the equipment and all of the protection that they need to do the absolutely vital job that they are doing here in Afghanistan," Cameron said.  "And I am pleased to announce today that we will be spending an extra 67 million pounds ($97 million) on countering the IED [improvised explosive device] threat and actually doubling the number of British teams that are there to counter the threat from those explosive devices."

Britain is the second largest contributor to NATO in Afghanistan.  Just under 10,000 British troops are in the country with most deployed in the south, where violence has been the worst.

As to any move to build-up that number, Mr. Cameron flatly ruled that out saying, "The issue is not remotely on the U.K. agenda."

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