Peter Hoskin

The doubts that remain after Brown’s Afghanistan statement

The doubts that remain after Brown's Afghanistan statement
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So there we have it.  Gordon Brown has confirmed what we all expected: that 500 more British troops will be sent to Afghanistan, bringing the total UK presence up to around 10,000.  The "surge" will be rounded off when Obama announces something like 35,000 extra US troops tomorrow.

Although greater manpower is A Good Thing for the mission in Afghanistan – and the mission in Afghanistan is certainly an important one – I can't help but have some qualms about the twin UK and US announcements.  

For starters, there's the simple issue of numbers.  500 more UK troops and 35,000 more US troops falls short of the bar of 2,000 and 40,000, respectively, that some military figures had set.  It may not make much difference.  But, until we see proof to the contrary, there's always the worry that we're still "spreading the Marmite too thin," as Brigadier James Cowan puts it in the latest issue of the magazine.

And then there's the way Brown seems to be using this announcement to tell a story of progress in Afghanistan.  Last month, he said that he agreed to a troop increase "in principle," provided three conditions could be met: that the Afghan government would provide assurances about its own troop commitment and their capacity to tackle terrorism and corruption; that any extra British troops would be adequately equipped; and that any further troops would be part of a coalition-wide deployment.  Today, he said that all those conditions have been met – which could be true.  But there will be doubts about the first two pre-conditions, in particular.   

In the end, Brown's frequent references to "benchmarks" for the Afghan government – increasing the Afghan army from 90,000 to 134,000, alongside police and political reforms – set the alarm bells ringing more than anything else.  Are these sufficient conditions for real success?  Or is the government picking metrics we can meet, to help it spin a tale of success?  Only time will tell, I guess.