Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Brown Signals End of Push as Britain Woos Moderate Taliban

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Brown Signals End of Push as Britain Woos Moderate Taliban

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Cecil Chief Political Correspondent

GORDON BROWN today announced the end of the offensive to drive back the Taliban under operation Panther's Claw.

The Prime Minister praised the bravery of British troops who have suffered their bloodiest month in Afghanistan as they battle to clear an area of the southern Helmand province of insurgents.

"The efforts of our troops in Helmand have been nothing short of heroic," Mr Brown told the Standard. "There has been a tragic human cost. But this has not been in vain."

Britain is now reaching out to moderate Taliban fighters to lay down their weapons as part of a Northern Irelandstyle reconciliation process.

Mr Brown said Panther's Claw, which lasted five weeks, had provided security for almost 100,000 Helmandis to vote in next month's Afghanistan election.

He said the war was vital to protect Britain from al Qaeda and its allies. "It has pushed back the Taliban and made it harder for them and other extremists to operate. Britain will be safer as a result. The men and women of our armed forces have shown once again their bravery and professionalism. The whole country is immensely proud of them."

Twenty British servicemen have died this month in Afghanistan -- nine of them in actions directly linked to Panther's Claw, the Ministry of Defence says.

Three thousand UK-led soldiers have fought fierce battles with the Taliban, to take control of villages and compounds in the area around Babaji.

The Taliban sustained "significant" losses. Some were detained but others are thought to have escaped, including several disguised in burkhas.

Most of the British deaths and hundreds of injuries -- many severe -- were caused by makeshift bombs, of which they came across around 1,000. Since 2001, 189 British personnel have died.

Speaking in Afghanistan, International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander told BBC radio today: "It is a difficult message for politicians to talk about the issues of reconciliation and reintegration when British troops are fighting the Taliban. …

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