UK to boost aid to Afghanistan - minister

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain plans to increase aid to Afghanistan by as much as 40 percent, International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell said.

Spending on international aid is one of only two areas, along with health, the coalition government has pledged to protect as it slashes departmental budgets to try to tackle a public deficit running at about 11 percent of national output.

“We have looked very carefully at the way in which British taxpayers money is being deployed as part of the effort we are making in Afghanistan,” Mitchell told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

“We have found some additional funding from less-good programmes, so in principal have an additional 40 percent of money going into the development budget.”

The government has committed 510 million pounds to Afghanistan over the 2009-2013 period to support effective government, stability, job creation and economic growth. In 2008-2009, British bilateral aid spending to Afghanistan was 147.5 million pounds.

Defending the government’s decision to continue spending taxpayer money in other countries at a time when Britons are being warned to expect tough cuts to public services, Mitchell said it was in Britain’s national interest.

“We are making the choice not only on moral grounds but also on national interest grounds,” he said. “It is an issue of national interest because many of the problems which make our world much less secure emanate from very poor developing countries often caught up in crisis and conflict.”

Britain has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, with many engaged in training Afghan security forces so they can gradually take over control. Prime Minister David Cameron has said he wants British combat troops home from Afghanistan within five years.

Mitchell said measures had been put in place to ensure aid money was well spent.

“We are now looking at the results we achieve for our spending,” he said. “We have a series of specific results and outcomes we want to achieve in Afghanistan and we’ve got the money to support that.”

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan