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Afghanistan faces 'tough choices' for future

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 09 February 2010

As the toll of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan hits 256, the defence secretary assures MPs that operational budgets are sufficient and that coalition ties are strengthening the allied position.

British soldiers, Afghanistan (Reuters)

Speaking to the defence select committee Bob Ainsworth said that working closely with the Afghan forces was crucial to success in the country.

Mr Ainsworth said that exchanging skills and knowledge between forces strengthened the coalition's position and made the situations "safer".

"If you get that embedding right and are therefore able to pick up on the skills and technical capability and military capability of our own people with the cultural awareness and the local awareness of the Afghan National Army… you are safer as a result.

"There will always be things where [the Afghan] local knowledge gives them the edge.

"If you get teams totally embedded in the way that General McChrystal wants them to be then that has to be a positive thing."

The defence secretary was speaking as Nato troops prepare for the biggest military operation against the Taliban since the beginning of the conflict on 2001.

Operation Moshtarak - or "togetherness" - aims to drive Taliban fighters out of the Majer stronghold in Helmand province. Up to 10,000 soldiers are expected to be involved with British and US troops working closely with the Afghan National Army.

Military commanders have taken the unusual stance of heavily publicising the impending operation giving the civilian population the opportunity to leave the area. 

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth was facing MPs over the latest developments in Afghanistan and the "tough choices" faced by the UK's military in the future.

He gave evidence to the defence select committee a day after the UK death toll in Afghanistan exceeded that of the Falklands war.

A total of 256 British servicemen and women have now died since operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001.

The latest soldier from 36 Engineer Regiment died yesterday. He died in an explosion while leading a counter-IED team in the Nad-e-Ali District in central Helmand province.

Mr Ainsworth told the committee he thought the government budget on the operations in Afghanistan was sufficient - with resource levels expected to rise to £5bn next year.

"[Looking at the overall figures] we had in 2006 around £800m from the reserve going into the operations.  That's gone up this year to £3.5bn and is due to rise next year to £5bn. That's the money from the reserve.

Additional to that…we directed some of the core budget towards the Afghan operation - about £900m over a three year period, about 1 per cent of the budget. So that is additional to that increasing amount of money that's going in from the reserves for the additional costs.

That as much as anything will show the level of resource there is going into the operations in Afghanistan.

Mr Ainsworth said today denied claims that the Taliban are supported by local Afghans.

"The ordinary Afghan people, whether they are women or men, so not support the Taliban, do not want to see a return of the Taliban government - but, yes they want to see improved government tin Afghanistan."  

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