Britain will boost troop numbers in the run-up to the presidential elections and spend more money on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. A lot of money. Between 2009 and 2013, the British development agency will spend £665 million in Pakistan. Over the same period, £510 million will go towards Afghanistan’s development.
Despite this, the reaction has been critical. The Times are quoting senior military sources saying the army wanted to deploy a total of 10,000 troops and keep them in place after the August elections. The 300 British troops that are training the Afghans are small beer compared to the 4,000 US Marines who will soon perform a similar task.
But I still think the criticism is a little off the mark. Deploying 9,000 troops still represents almost an eighth of the UK’s reported deployable capacity. The UK’s is the second largest force in NATO, and a British general will take command of the whole southern region in a few months time.
Besides, it may make sense not to send even more UK troops now, when the Obama administration has upped numbers but - crucially - chosen not to unlease a tsunami of forces. So long as the government remains open to the idea, there is room to up UK troop numbers once the US forces have rolled into theatre and gauged how much additional support they need, if any.
The UK would do better to coordinate a broader, international effort to back up the Pakistani police and judiciary. The £10 million of UK funding dedicated to supporting the Pakistani security forces will not be enough. Pakistan’s police are incapable of combating crime, upholding the law or protecting Pakistani citizens. It will require a massive effort, akin to the international community’s efforts in Kosovo and Bosnia, to rectify this. Having just returned from Berlin and Paris, I am convinced this is an area where other NATO allies can - and want to - do more.