Fox says no change in Afghanistan policy

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MANAMA (Reuters) - Britain has no immediate plans to speed up the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, Defence Secretary Liam Fox was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Last week, Fox told the Times of London the government hoped to speed up the pull-out, saying Britain was “not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country.”

In remarks published in Arabic by Bahrain’s Al Wasat daily, he said his visit to Afghanistan this week was not a prelude to a troop withdrawal but meant to help assess the success of its troops.

“(The remarks to the Times) were neither a slip of the tongue nor a change in policy but confirmed to our troops’ families that we are present in Afghanistan to protect our interest and keep away danger from our country,” he said.

Fox added: “And then we leave, we are not a colonial power, we are part of an alliance trying to ensure Afghans have a government to protect them and a leadership to achieve their goals as an independent state.”

During their visit to Kabul, Fox and other ministers of Britain’s new coalition government said they would not set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, where some 285 British soldiers have died since 2001.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government formed after Britain’s May 6 election says its top foreign policy priority is the strategy for Afghanistan, where the country has about 9,500 troops battling insurgents.

The United States is sending more troops to Afghanistan to seize insurgent-held areas before a planned withdrawal starting in July 2010.

Reporting by Frederik Richter; Editing by Maria Golovnina