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Britain's Brown Vows Long-Term Commitment to Afghanistan

For the first time as prime minister, Gordon Brown has met Afghan President Hamid Karzai at 10 Downing Street. Brown said Britain's commitment to Afghanistan was long term and he urged other countries to do more in sharing the burden. For VOA, Tom Rivers in London reports.

Six years after the fall of the Taliban, the call is not new and NATO defense ministers are again discussing ways of gaining greater troop commitments from its member states for peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan.

While those talks go on in The Netherlands, in London, Afghan President Hamid Karzai held a breakfast meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Britain has just over 7,000 troops in the country. Most are based in the restive Helmand province.

After his discussions, Brown told reporters the British commitment would be long term and he is urging others in the alliance to do more.

"We know from the NATO commander that there are other countries prepared to do more," said Brown. "We know also that there are means by which burden sharing can happen but the military effort must be complemented by the diplomatic effort and by the development work that is being done."

"And one of the things I look forward to in the next few months is the greater coordination of the development effort in the interests of the schools, the hospitals, the economic development, the agricultural productivity that can be achieved by better coordination of the programs," he added.

Brown says he sees strategy in Afghanistan in terms of three key components: development, defense and diplomacy.

Speaking on Sky News, Britain's chief of defense staff, Jock Stirrup agrees saying assistance must be viewed beyond purely defense terms.

"In terms of bringing Afghanistan into its rightful place in the 21st century, that is an enormous project that will engage the international community frankly for decades," he said. "But it is an engagement of economic assistance, it is an engagement of social development, it is an engagement of education and all of these things."

While some developmental progress has been made in the past few years, one glaring area where Afghanistan has failed is in stopping opium production.

According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, production has now soared to record levels. In the past two years, it is estimated that the crop has more than doubled.

Afghanistan now accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's heroin.