September 28, 2009 / 3:27 PM / 10 years ago

Britain's Conservatives set out Afghanistan policy

* If requested, more troops could be sent for training

* No more troops for combat

* But new U.S.-led strategy needed before troop increase



By Luke Baker

LONDON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Britain’s opposition Conservatives, widely expected to win the next election, would consider sending more troops to Afghanistan but only to train Afghan forces, their defence spokesman said on Monday.

Setting out a series of policy positions on Afghanistan, where Britain has 9,000 troops and which is shaping up to be an issue ahead of the election, due by June 2010, Liam Fox said his party wanted Britain to play a long-term role in the war.

"Afghanistan must be, and will be, our military’s main effort under a future Conservative government," he said in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in which he said any more troops would be for training not combat.

"A Conservative government would be sympathetic to a request for an increase in the number of British troops to help expedite the training of the Afghan security forces," he said, saying he had discussed the issue with U.S. General Stanley McChrystal.

"Since security is our definition of success, the sooner we get the Afghan security forces trained and on the front line, the faster we can bring our own troops home."

In many respects, Fox’s speech laid out positions similar to those of the Labour government, which supports the war and has said that if any more troops were to be sent, they should be focused on training more Afghan soldiers and police.

But Fox went into detail about Afghan history, the regional implications of failure, and the need to define what success might look like, showing a broad grasp of the issues in an address that appeared designed to show that he would be up to the defence secretary job were the Conservatives to win.

As well as the need to build up the Afghan army and police force, Fox argued for the creation of local "auxiliary" forces, essentially tribal militias that would help maintain order in their regions, using local knowledge to repel the Taliban.

"We need to understand that more British troops for training the Afghan National Army does not automatically translate into more ANA troops being sent to Helmand to fight alongside British troops," he said, referring to a province in the south where most British troops are based and where the Taliban is strong.

"Consequently... we need seriously to start exploring ways of forming and utilising local auxiliary forces. Auxiliary forces bring local knowledge and local ownership to local security. Something foreign troops will never be able to do."

Fox repeatedly played up his recent contact with McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, who last week presented the U.S. administration with his plans for how to regain the initiative in the eight-year-old war, saying up to 40,000 more troops are needed to fend of the threat of failure.

While Fox backed McChrystal’s recommendations for training up Afghan security forces, he said there was no point in sending more troops until the strategy on Afghanistan was reworked.

"Deploying more troops without a new strategy will only have a short term and localised effect," he said. "They can win the tactical battle; they can buy politicians time; but ultimately unless something fills the gap they have created, their sacrifices and efforts risk being in vain." (Reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Dominic Evans)



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