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Gordon Brown Gets "blunt" With Karzai

Facing domestic pressure after a spike in British casualities in Afghanistan, Gordon Brown has "demanded" of Hamid Karzai that he send more Afghan Army forces to the violent Helmand province.

Gordon Brown has told the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to put more Afghan troops into Helmand province immediately to make sure the costly territorial gains made by UK forces are not lost and British soldiers do not die in vain.

Amid mounting political pressure on the government over the sharp rise in British fatalities this month, Brown issued his demand to Karzai in a phone conversation on Sunday after talks with the US president, Barack Obama.

Less than 10% of the 80,000-strong Afghan army are stationed in Helmand even though 50% of the fighting is being conducted in the Taliban stronghold.

British forces have been repeatedly frustrated that they capture vital ground only for it to be ceded within months due to the lack of Afghan soldiers to move in and take control. There are only 500 Afghan troops involved in the British Operation Panther's Claw in Helmand province.

Brown said bluntly he wanted to see "a very substantial increase" in Afghan troop numbers.

The leak of this story to multiple UK outlets indicates that Brown is, to some degree, posturing for a restless British public. But it also underscores how slow progress has been in standing up the Afghan army.The other day I bumped into a former military officer who closely tracks Afghanistan policy, and he said that the Obama administration will soon face the very hard question of whether to ask Congress for massive funding to roughly triple the Afghan army. He estimated the price tag at perhaps $5 billion per year. That won't be an easy sell, particularly in a House of Representatives where liberal members--some under extreme pressure back home--have made it clear they are sick and tired of voting for hugely expensive foreign military adventures.

--Michael Crowley