UK committed to Afghan strategy after McChrystal sacking

LONDON Wed Jun 23, 2010 5:12pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain remains "absolutely committed" to the allied strategy in Afghanistan after President Barack Obama sacked his top Afghanistan commander, Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said on Wednesday.

Cameron spoke to Obama by telephone and they agreed that General David Petraeus, whom Obama named as the new U.S. military chief in Afghanistan, was the right man to replace General Stanley McChrystal, the spokesman added in a statement.

Pending Petraeus's confirmation by the U.S. Congress, the British Deputy Commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Nick Parker, has assumed command, the spokesman said.

"The Prime Minister told the President of General Parker's determination that the mission in Afghanistan 'would not miss a beat' during this period," he said.

McChrystal was fired over inflammatory comments that angered the White House.

Britain's 9,500 troops make up the second largest foreign contingent in Afghanistan, but this is still small compared with the 100,000 U.S. troops.

British servicemen have been locked in some of the fiercest fighting against Taliban insurgents, and more than 300 have lost their lives, leading to a waning of support at home.

The British government said on Monday that its civilian special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan was taking extended leave, after a newspaper reported he had clashed with the United States and NATO over Afghan strategy.

British Defense Minister Liam Fox said the NATO-led coalition "intended to be resolute" in its mission.

"There can be no celebration amongst our enemies, the Taliban or anybody else, because it is very clear that we are getting a continuity in policy," he told reporters.

Cameron has ruled out sending more troops to the Afghan mission and said Britain's forces should not stay on "for a day longer" than necessary.

The war is costing Britain billions of pounds at a time when it is slashing government spending to rein in a gaping budget deficit. Defense spending is likely to be cut.

(Writing by Avril Ormsby; Editing by David Stamp)

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