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Jan 26, 2008
PM rejects Afghan president's denigration of UK forces
Downing Street today rejected claims by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, that British forces in his country were bungling the military operation to defeat the Taliban.
The row over Britain's efforts to quell the insurgency by Islamist militants in the restless southern Helmand province broke as Karzai was due to hold talks today with prime minister Gordon Brown at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Karzai spoke out at a briefing with journalists at the summit. He said: "The American and the British forces guaranteed to me they knew what they were doing and I made the mistake of listening to them. And when they came in, the Taliban came."
Karzai said the British and Americans had not deployed enough troops in Helmand to fill the power vacuum created when, on their advice, the sitting governor of the province was removed and the regional police force was disbanded.
"We removed the police force. That was not good. The security forces were not in sufficient numbers ... That was why the Taliban came back in," Karzai said. "It took us a year and a half to take back Musa Qala. This was not a failure but a mistake."
The prime minister's spokesman today rejected claims that the British troops' presence had allowed the Taliban to return to the province.
He said: "Of course we wouldn't accept that. We are working alongside the Afghan government in order to drive out the Taliban from Helmand.
"Our strength in Afghanistan has been to work with the Afghan government and to extend the authority of the Afghan government throughout the province to allow economic and political development.
"And it's to that aim that our armed forces have suffered losses and shown great bravery and determination.
"But I would stress we are working closely with the Afghan government in relation to political and economic and military issues in Helmand."
The spokesman said today's meeting of the two leaders, which was arranged before Karzai made his remarks, was expected to be brief and pointed out that they had long talks during Brown's visit to Kabul last month.
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