LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed on Friday it was necessary to share the military burden better with NATO allies in Afghanistan, Brown’s office said.
The head of the British armed forces, Jock Stirrup, said earlier that Britain was doing “much more than its fair share” of the fighting in Afghanistan compared with other NATO allies.
Obama and Brown discussed Afghanistan in a phone call after Britain said it was sending 125 more troops to replace soldiers killed or wounded in an offensive against Taliban insurgents.
“They agreed on the importance of better military and civilian burden-sharing with NATO allies,” a statement from Brown’s office said.
Britain has temporarily boosted its contingent in Afghanistan to just over 9,000 to help provide security for next month’s presidential election. It has the second largest foreign force after the United States.
U.S. and British troops have launched major offensives against the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand. Nineteen British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this month, one of the highest monthly tolls since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
The toll has triggered questions in Britain over whether there are enough troops to complete the task, whether they are properly equipped and if they should be in Afghanistan at all.
Obama and Brown agreed that despite the human cost, military operations in Helmand were making progress and were helping to provide much-needed security for the elections.
“Going forward, there needed to be a continued balance between security, governance and economic development as part of a comprehensive approach, with increased training of Afghan security forces,” the statement said.
Obama and Brown also said it was important to work to make the elections as credible and inclusive as possible.
British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth said he had decided to send 125 more soldiers to Afghanistan after commanders told him reinforcements were necessary to “maintain our operational tempo and consolidate the real progress we have made.”
A Ministry of Defense spokesman said the reinforcements were intended to maintain the British force at just over 9,000 rather than to increase it.
The total British death toll of 188 surpasses the number of British soldiers killed in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
Brown has been dogged by accusations that a shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan is endangering British soldiers because they are forced to use roads where they regularly become targets for bombs set by Taliban insurgents. He denies it.
Editing by Robert Woodward