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Britain Pledges 'Civilian Surge' For Afghanistan

A British soldier patrols on the outskirts of Kabul.
KABUL (Reuters) - Britain today announced a civilian surge for Afghanistan, promising to field hundreds of people for development projects in addition to its growing military commitment to the increasingly deadly war.

Douglas Alexander, the British international development secretary, said about 200 civilian professionals would be deployed to Afghanistan at a time, from a pool of 1,000 being set up for development work around the world.

At a news conference in Kabul, Alexander also announced 23 million pounds ($37 million) of aid for efforts to build Afghan local governance.

Western countries, especially the United States and Britain, want to show they are committed to rebuilding in Afghanistan even as the eight-year-old war there is escalating in the face of a growing Taliban insurgency.

This has been the deadliest year of the war for Western troops, with Britain in particular facing its worst combat casualties since the Falklands War in the 1980s.

"I do think as an international community and as the government of Afghanistan, we do need to strengthen the support available to our military forces," Alexander said.

U.S. President Barack Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan focuses on protecting the Afghan population by improving education, healthcare and building infrastructure as a means of winning their support and turning them against the Taliban.

Obama pledged 30,000 additional troops for Afghanistan as part of the latest attempt by the United States to turn the tide on an insurgency that has claimed record numbers of foreign troop and civilian lives this year.

Britain has offered 500 more troops, bringing its contingent to 9,500, the second largest after the United States. The first of the British reinforcements began arriving on December 15.

"I would expect in the months ahead, given the uplift in international troops and the training of [Afghan National Army] forces, where engagement takes place with the Taliban, there will now be stabilization efforts as a matter of course following behind that military action," Alexander said.

"The British people understand what our commanders on the ground understand. If you talk to commanders they are clear that there's not a military only or security only solution to the challenge facing Afghanistan," Alexander said.