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Britain and Italy Pledge Their Support to Afghanistan

President Hamid Karzai traveled to England and Italy last week for meetings with both heads of state. He arrived in Britain’s Downing Street on February 14 for meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair. Following discussions of the security and counter-narcotics efforts throughout Afghanistan, Prime Minister Blair pledged to "see the job through" in Afghanistan and insisted that incredible progress has already been made. "We must never allow it to go back," he said. Prime Minister Blair said that British troops were proud to serve in the country’s restive southern provinces and expressed his hopes that better security would be established along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Prime Minister said that the region must work together to defeat those on "whichever side of the border, trying to create the circumstances of terror, in order to stop progress."

President Karzai thanked the Prime Minister for his government’s continued support and expressed his full confidence in Britain’s commitment to Afghanistan. "Having better stability and peace in the last five months is giving us hope for a more successful tomorrow," he said. Britain has about 5,600 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led reconstruction and security force and is expected to increase its military presence in southern Afghanistan by about 800 troops by late summer.

President Karzai then traveled to Italy on February 16, where he met with Italian Premier Romano Prodi and attended a conference on the role of women in Afghanistan with Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema.

Speaking during a joint news conference, Premier Prodi said that Italy would keep its troops in Afghanistan despite opposition from within his own government. Italy has 1,800 troops in Afghanistan.

"We are committed with a sizable effort, and we stick to that commitment," Premier Prodi said. "I think it is Italy's job to insist on a political solution."

President Karzai thanked the Italian people for their continued support for the mission in Afghanistan. "I believe this is for me the right forum to express gratitude for being with us at a very difficult time, and for continuing to be with us today that we are moving toward a better, more secure future for our people," he said.

The President’s remarks came one day after President George W. Bush said NATO allies will need to supply more soldiers to Afghanistan in order to push back the Taliban’s spring offensive. President Karzai affirmed that the Afghan security forces and Coalition troops were preparing for such an engagement. "If there is (an offensive), we'll strike with immense vigor and force."


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