Brown: We’ll set a timetable for withdrawal

By staff

Talks in the new year should involve discussions over the timing of British withdrawal from Afghanistan, the prime minister has announced.

In his annual foreign policy speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London last night, Gordon Brown said a Nato meeting would set a timetable for transfer starting in 2010.

The passing of responsibility would proceed “district by district” as Afghan security forces took on further responsibilities.

Mr Brown called for the UK to adopt a “patriotic” and “outward-looking” approach to the world this evening, in his latest attempt to defend the conflict.

The speech functioned as the latest attempt to shore-up support for the conflict, which has seen public backing sap in the face of sustained casualties and confusion over the primary aim of the conflict.

But Mr Brown argued that the last year has been seminal in the fight against al-Qaida, and that departing the region now would mean seeing the terrorist group return to Afghanistan.

“We are in Afghanistan because we judge that, if the Taliban regained power, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups would once more have an environment in which they could operate,” he argued.

“We are there because action in Afghanistan is not an alternative to action in Pakistan, but an inseparable support to it.

“At every point in our history where we have looked outwards, we have become stronger.

“And that is why I say our foreign policy must be both patriotic and internationalist: a foreign policy that recognises and exploits Britain’s unique strengths, and defends Britain’s national interests strongly – not by retreating into isolation, but by advancing in international cooperation.”

Downing Street is concerned that the presence of allied forces in the south of the country has pushed al-Qaida further into Pakistan, but is following Pakistan’s large scale offensive against the forces closely.

Shortly before Mr Brown made the speech, the death of the 97th British serviceman killed this year was announced.