Rice-Brown War Talks

Protesters demanding troops out of Afghanistan picketing Downing Street yesterday
Protesters demanding troops out of Afghanistan picketing Downing Street yesterday

Prime Minister Brown had war talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Downing Street yesterday afternoon.

The pair discussed tensions within NATO over the deployment of forces in Afghanistan where US and UK and Canadian troops are suffering a large number of casualties.

Canada has warned that it will pull out unless EU combat troops are mobilised to engage the Taleban.

Earlier Rice held two hours of talks with Foreign Secretary Miliband.

Following these talks, Rice said: ‘The (NATO) alliance is facing a real test here. And it is a test of alliance strength.’

She added that people needed to understand that Afghanistan was not a peace-keeping mission but a counter-insurgency fight.

Miliband said: ‘I am confident that the 7,700 troops that we have got in Afghanistan are the right number.’

Earlier at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons Tory MP Patrick Mercer, who has advised Brown on defence issues, asked why the 600 extra troops called for by brigade commanders in Afghanistan had not been provided as part of new troop deployments announced earlier to ‘ensure there are enough bayonets on the ground to hold territory’.

Mercer warned that the UK did not have enough troops to fight a war on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In response to a question from Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell, who has visited British troops in Afghanistan, Brown called for ‘proper burden sharing’ when it came to personnel and equipment from other EU countries.

Separately, Defence Secretary Des Browne announced plans for 16 Air Assault Brigade to replace 52 Infantry Brigade on the next redeployment of UK forces to Afghanistan in April 2008.

The Ministry of Defence also announced plans for the replacement in Afghanistan of 16 Air Assault Brigade, in October 2008, by 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines.

An MoD statement added: ‘As the lead formation deploying in April 2008, 16 Air Assault Brigade will provide the majority of the units serving in Afghanistan, the bulk of which represent direct replacements for previously announced deployments to Afghanistan.

‘Overall force levels will be broadly unchanged.’

On her flight to England, Rice had told reporters she wanted to ‘intensify discussions about Afghanistan’.

She also said the appointment of a high-level figure to co-ordinate international civilian and military operations in Afghanistan was high on the agenda.

Over 300 protesters picketed Downing Street from 12.30pm yesterday, shouting ‘Who let the bombs out? – Brown, Bush and Rice!’ and ‘Troops Out!’

Student Hanna Mansson told News Line: ‘I’m here to show Condoleezza Rice that she is not welcome here, and we don’t agree with her politics.

‘America is like a big brother and should mind its own business, and not send troops to invade and occupy other countries.’

Another student, Bilkisu Ibrahim added: ‘I’m here because of the way the Palestinians are being treated in Gaza.’

UK resident, Angelo Skotadis from Greece, said: ‘It’s the third time Britain has been in Afghanistan and it will end up like the previous two times, in defeat.’