Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bush and Blair at Odds over Troops

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bush and Blair at Odds over Troops

Article excerpt


A DANGEROUS gap appears to be opening up between Britain and America about military action in Afghanistan, Whitehall sources say today.

Tony Blair is eager to commit large forces to "take a grip" on the chaotic situation in the country, while George Bush is deeply unwilling to do more than deploy special forces to destroy Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leadership. After five days of stop-go between London and Washington about sending in troops, with Britain's Prime Minister urging action and the Washington administration reluctant, Mr Blair has failed to rouse US enthusiasm for large-scale deployment.

The advance force of 100 Royal Marines at Bagram air base outside Kabul is today surrounded by hostile Northern Alliance fighters. Plans to commit more than 2,000 British troops at the weekend, for possible peacekeeping and support for special forces operations, have been thrown into reverse. A small French force is still scheduled to land in northern Afghanistan, but no more British troops will be sent until the Northern Alliance agrees to their coming. The cause of the present allied disarray seems to be Washington's unexpected reluctance, if not outright refusal, to send in forces for a long and indefinite mission, when air power and special forces are already close to achieving America's key objectives, deposing the Taliban and destroying the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan.

Fears are being expressed in America that the country could become "another Vietnam". Yet Mr Blair believes very strongly that, having precipitated the conflict, the allies now have a responsibility to ensure stability and a transfer to a new Afghan government. Without large numbers of foreign troops on the ground, the country seems likely to lapse into anarchy.

President Bush continues to enjoy unprecedented support from an American public mesmerised by the hunt for Bin Laden and preoccupied with thoughts of revenge for the more than 5,000 dead in the attacks of 11 September. There has been almost no discussion of a longer-term strategy to bring lasting peace to the region at any level.

It had been planned for 2,000 men of 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment and 45 Commando Royal Marines to be put on the ground by this morning to help distribute aid delivered by air to Bagram airport. …

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