UK troops may spend five more years in Helmand

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London/Kabul, Jan.25 (ANI): British troops will remain in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province to fight the Taleban for another five years, according to a leaked draft of the communiqué that will conclude the London conference on Afghanistan this week.

According to The Telegraph, this controversial plan is likely to anger relatives of British soldiers killed by the Taleban in Helmand province.

Last night, the Ministry of Defence said that a 251st serviceman had died, while the most senior US commander in the war zone predicted that the violence would get worse before it got better.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown will present the plan for stabilising Afghanistan. It foresees a bloody endgame, with Afghan forces only gradually taking on their rightful role over several years.

The draft closing statement lays down a timeline which is significantly less optimistic than that envisaged by President Obama, who has suggested that US forces would aim to begin drawing down troops from mid-2011.

It commits Afghan forces to "taking the lead and conducting the majority of operations in the insecure areas of Afghanistan within three years and taking responsibility for physical security within five years".

"Providing conditions are met", it adds, some of the more stable regions of the country may be put under the control of Afghan security forces at the end of this year or in early 2011, with Western troops providing support.

Yesterday Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, acknowledged that the transition to a more peaceful Afghanistan would be a lengthy process.

The centrepiece of the London conference, attended by countries with troops in Afghanistan, will be the reconciliation plan.

It promises "an honourable place in society" to those who cut their ties with "al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups". It will be underwritten by a "Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund" over the next three years.

The Times has learnt that the US, Britain and Japan are the principal donors to the scheme, the details of which were thrashed out in a meeting involving diplomats from 20 countries in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago. (ANI)

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