British Prime Minister Theresa May hosted NATO’s secretary-general at Number 10 on Wednesday morning amid speculation she may commit to sending more UK troops into Afghanistan.
May is said to be considering the deployment of up to 150 extra troops to bolster the struggling Afghan Army following requests from NATO. There are currently around 500 British troops in the country providing security, assistance and advice in Kabul and the Afghan Officer Academy. The last UK combat troops left in October 2014.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed the military alliance wants “a few thousand” additional troops for Afghanistan, which would come from all allied forces, including Britain and the US. He said the issue would be discussed at a summit on May 25.
“We have received a request from our military authorities to increase our military presence in Afghanistan with a few thousand troops,” Stoltenberg told reporters outside Downing Street.
“We are now assessing that request. We will make decisions on the scale and the scope of the mission within weeks. But this is not about returning back to a combat operation in Afghanistan. It will be a train, assist and advise operation.”
Stoltenberg added that the UK is “leading by example” within NATO, including by keeping forces in Afghanistan for many years and by meeting targets for member states to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense.
“In the case of fighting terrorism, I very much appreciate the contribution from the United Kingdom. You have been in Afghanistan for many many years, together with all the NATO allies.”
Meanwhile, May stressed that she would be pushing for other nations to “play their role” including by meeting the two percent target.
There are 13,000 NATO troops in the country at present, 8,400 of them from the US. The Taliban has been enjoying a resurgence, regaining ground in Sangin province, where many British soldiers lost their lives after the 2001 invasion.
Last month, the Taliban stormed an Afghan Army base and killed more than 100 soldiers. They went on a shooting spree, killing dozens of soldiers with bullets and rocket-propelled grenades. The brutal assault was part of the group’s ‘Spring Offensive’.