UK may send 2,000 more troops to Afghanistan

Britain could send up to 2,000 more troops to Afghanistan if U.S. President-elect Barack Obama asks allies for more help in the fight against the Taliban, the BBC reported on Thursday.

The government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown would find it hard to refuse a request from Washington to boost NATO forces there, the broadcaster said, citing unidentified ministers and officials, Reuters reported.

The BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins said British officials had told him there would be negotiations with the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, "and more than one has told me to expect agreement for between 1,500 and 2,000 extra British troops."

Britain, which has more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, has urged other countries to make a bigger contribution.

Obama has pledged to send more troops to Afghanistan, where the United States has more than 30,000 soldiers, and he is expected to put pressure on European members of NATO to do more.

A Defense Ministry spokesman in London said no decision had been made whether to deploy more British troops.

"Neither Number 10 (Brown's Downing Street office) nor the Ministry of Defense recognize the figure of 2,000 extra troops," he said. "We keep our force levels under constant review based on military advice, however no uplift is planned at this time.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said more foreign troops were needed to help fight the Taliban and to control the illegal drugs trade.

"Bring more troops, deploy them properly," he told the BBC in an interview conducted during a visit to London.

Sending more troops would stretch Britain's armed forces, which are also fighting in Iraq, the head of the British army General Sir Richard Dannatt told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"The reason the army has been under such pressure for the past three years is that we are committed to fighting two wars when we are only structured to fight one," he was quoted as saying. "If we were to move troops from Iraq to Afghanistan we would simply replicate the problems."

The move would also be unpopular with the British public, a BBC poll of 1,000 people suggested on Thursday. More than two-thirds of those questioned said they wanted British forces to leave Afghanistan within a year.

U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch troops have assumed much of the fighting in south and east Afghanistan, while other NATO members, such as Germany and France, have resisted U.S. pressure to operate outside the country's relatively safe north.

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