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Afghan security makes world safer, Britain says

Written by: Staff
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KABUL, Apr 23 (Reuters) British troops will see through their mission in Afghanistan to make it and the world at large a safer place, Britain's defence minister said today.

Britain is taking over command of Afghanistan's NATO-led peacekeeping force next month and will soon have 3,300 troops based in the violent south of the country. Other NATO members, including Canada and the Netherlands will also have thousands of troops in the south as NATO takes over security from a US-led force hunting militants.

''We never forget the immediate reason that brought us to Afghanistan this time,'' Defence Secretary John Reid told a news conference, referring to the September. 11 attacks on the United States.

''All of the dangers we face have to be put in the context of the greatest danger of all ... if Afghanistan ever again came under the rule of a Taliban regime prepared to protect al Qaeda.'' Britain has had troops in Afghanistan since soon after US and Afghan opposition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, after they refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the architect of the attacks on the United States.

The NATO troops are arriving during a surge in violence by the Taliban who said last month they had launched a spring offensive in their campaign to rid the country of foreign forces and topple the Western-backed government.

Reid arrived in Afghanistan today, a day after four Canadian soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb blast in the southern province of Kandahar.

The expansion of the NATO force into the south has raised questions among critics in some countries who fear the troops will get bogged down in a relentless insurgency funded in part by Afghanistan's huge narcotics trade.

Questions have been raised in Britain about whether enough soldiers were being sent to the south but Reid rejected a British newspaper report that he had been asked for an extra 600 troops.

Reid also stressed the distinction between the NATO-led peacekeeping force and the U.S.-led force hunting militants.

''We're in the south to help and protect the Afghan people to reconstruct their economy and democracy. We would be perfectly happy to leave in three year's time without firing one shot,'' he said.

British troops would not be directly involved in tackling Afghanistan's huge drug trade, but would focus on security to allow anti-drugs efforts to go ahead, another official said.

REUTERS SRS PM1552

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