500 Special Forces

John A Silkstone

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Britain had about 500 members of special forces active in Afghanistan, Gordon Brown disclosed yesterday.

The Prime Minister acknowledged the presence and numbers of the SAS and other special groups as President Obama gave the go-ahead to a surge of at least 30,000 US troops that he hopes will change the dynamics of the war.

Mr Brown confirmed that an extra 500 British troops would be deployed this month, taking the number of troops above 10,000. The country had a right to know about the brave and full role being played by the 500 or so Special Forces, who have previously not been included in the numbers of British Forces, he told MPs. Downing Street sources said that Mr Brown had secured the approval of the director of special forces, and “all relevant people” at the Ministry of Defence, before revealing numbers.

Mr Obama had informed America’s military leadership of his long-awaited decision on troop numbers and strategy at an Oval Office meeting on Sunday, the White House press secretary said.

The Ministry of Defence announced yesterday that a soldier from the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards had been killed in Afghanistan. In a Commons statement Mr Brown said that the conditions for sending the extra 500 regular troops had been met, including that of burden-sharing with Nato allies. He said that eight countries had responded to the appeal for more troops.

He hoped that their total number would reach 5,000 by the time of next month’s London conference on Afghanistan. Pressed by MPs to give more details, however, he said that it was for the countries to make their own announcements.

Mr Brown denied that Britain and the US were fighting alone in Afghanistan. The Afghans had vowed to deploy 5,000 members of the new national army corps to Helmand, to be partnered by British troops next year.

No 10 later pointed to an announcement by Slovakia that it was sending 250 more troops. Officials also hinted that Australia and New Zealand would be sending more. Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, told the BBC that the eight countries included Turkey, Slovakia, Georgia and Portugal, but he believed that others would follow. Nato said that there would be more announcements at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Mr Brown told the Commons that at a time of increasing international effort it was right to give a more comprehensive account of Britain’s military commitment in Afghanistan.

Details of the special forces’ activities in Afghanistan have been a closely guarded secret. By talking about the forces Mr Brown was breaking with convention but his spokesman said that while no details would be given of their deployments or activities it was right that their achievements should be recognised.

Mr Brown told MPs that the “military surge” would be complemented by a “political surge” with more Afghan police, a police reform plan and more effective and accountable local administration in Afghanistan.
 
Afghanistan is a serious problem. The Taliban are fighters who were originally trained by the CIA to battle against the Russian Invasion back in the late '70's. I can't help but wonder what's going to happen to that country when President Obama pulls out all the American troops in 2011.
 

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