Blair reaffirms commitment to Afghanistan

The prime minister, Tony Blair, today said that Britain had a "complete and continuing commitment" to Afghanistan, but made no mention of expanding Britain's role in the international peacekeeping force.

The prime minister, Tony Blair, today said that Britain had a "complete and continuing commitment" to Afghanistan, but made no mention of expanding Britain's role in the international peacekeeping force.

Hamid Karzai, the country's interim leader, said an extension of the force was a "demand of the Afghan people" at a joint Downing Street press conference with the prime minister, adding that Britain could be proud of its contribution at the head of the troops.

"The Afghan people are really asking for these forces as a symbol of the commitment of the international community," he said.

Mr Blair did not promise to extend Britain's contribution in terms of troops - which now stands at 5,000 soldiers - but said he believed that the international community had a long-term commitment to the force. His spokesman said that any decision to expand its role was a matter for the interim government and all countries with soldiers involved.

The two men - who met previously at Bagram airbase near Kabul - also discussed the drugs trade and tourism. Mr Karzai thanked Britain for its role in the US-led war against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and the Taliban.

"Afghanistan could not have been freed from the occupation of terrorism, from the presence of terrorism, without the help of the friends that we have, without the presence of your troops there, without the sacrifice they made, and without the contribution you made," he said.

Mr Blair said the last remaining members of the Taliban and Bin Laden must still be found, but spoke of the humanitarian work and reconstruction needed in the country.

Mr Karzai flew into London this morning and was met at Heathrow airport by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw.

The two men headed to Downing Street, where the Afghan leader joined ministers for the end of their weekly cabinet meeting - one of few foreign leaders to have done so.

He thanked ministers for their contributions to reconstructing his nation, still devastated after three decades of war. Britain has pledged to spend £200m over the next five years.

"We will make sure that the money that your taxpayers have given to our government is spent respectfully and correctly," Mr Karzai said.

He again outlined his spending priorities - education, health, road building, communications and banking. He said the Taliban had run away with whatever money they could get their hands on.

"We literally had no currency notes. Our own notes, which are printed in trillions," he laughed.

As well as financial aid, Britain may agree to provide support in the future in the form of a military training team to help build up a regular Afghan army.

Mr Karzai had caught an overnight flight from Washington, where he had been offered US military expertise in training Afghan troops by the US president, George Bush. Mr Bush also extended $50m (£35m) in credit facilities to Afghanistan.

While in the US, Mr Karzai reopened his country's Washington embassy, which has been closed for the last five years, and attended Mr Bush's state of the union address on Tuesday night.

However, Mr Bush ruled out the possibility of US troops joining the small international peacekeeping mission in the country, despite repeated invitations from Mr Karzai.

The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said: "The president's philosophy is that the United States should not be overly deployed in peacekeeping around the world. The purpose of the troops should be to fight wars."

Mr Karzai also addressed the UN security council yesterday, asking for an expanded international presence to keep growing lawlessness in check and to provide the stability needed for reconstruction.


Sarah Left and Simon Jeffery

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Blair meets troops in Oman

October 10: The prime minister shared a hot curry with British troops in the desert of Oman today, on the first step of a three-day diplomatic trip to the Middle East.

Staff and agencies

10, Oct, 2001 @10:09 AM

Karzai: Afghanistan needs more protection
During a meeting today in Kabul with the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, Afghanistan's interim president, Hamid Karzai, repeated his call for more international troops to protect his country, following the violent death of his tourism minister at the city's airport.

Staff and agencies

15, Feb, 2002 @5:00 PM

Blair touches down in Cairo
The prime minister, Tony Blair, arrived in Cairo today on the latest leg of his Middle East diplomatic mission after the heaviest wave of air strikes so far against Afghanistan.

Staff and agencies

11, Oct, 2001 @10:11 AM

Guantánamo Bay - the story of three British detainees
Today the Guardian publishes extracts from a 115-page report based on lengthy interviews the 'Tipton three' gave about their treatment by US and UK officials and military.

Tania Branigan and Vikram Dodd

03, Aug, 2004 @11:34 PM

'No exit' fear for troops in Afghanistan
British troops could find themselves caught up in a Vietnam-style civil war in Afghanistan, a former Labour minister warned last night.

Nicholas Watt, political correspondent

21, Mar, 2002 @2:23 AM

Blair flies in for peace mission
Tony Blair today touched down in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, for the first leg of a six-day diplomatic mission to the subcontinent, warning that he had "no blueprint for peace" in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Matthew Tempest, political correspondent

03, Jan, 2002 @11:19 AM

Blair hints at early military strike
Tony Blair yesterday gave his most explicit hint yet that US-led military strikes in retaliation for the destruction of the World Trade Centre will be focused on Osama bin Laden's terrorist training camps inside Afghanistan and will come within days.

Michael White in New York

21, Sep, 2001 @9:58 AM

Blair arrives in Pakistan for emergency talks
October 5: The prime minister, Tony Blair, today flew into the eye of the storm of the escalating global crisis, as he arrived in Pakistan for emergency talks with General Pervez Musharraf.

Matthew Tempest, political correspondent

05, Oct, 2001 @10:05 AM

Putin lauded as Blair seeks Russian help
Tony Blair yesterday praised the strong leadership of the Russian president Vladimir Putin as he sought assurances that US and British military assets could be used in the former Soviet republics bordering northern Afghanistan.

Patrick Wintour in Moscow

05, Oct, 2001 @3:32 PM

Blair to make tour to shore up alliance
Amid heavy security and a partial news blackout, Tony Blair was yesterday preparing to make a whirlwind diplomatic tour.

Patrick Wintour, chief political correspondent

04, Oct, 2001 @10:03 AM