, LONDON, Nov 17 – Foreign forces in Afghanistan are "disrupting and disabling" Al-Qaeda’s leadership, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday, in a strong defence of Britain’s involvement in the conflict.
Brown also offered to host an international conference in London early next year on Afghanistan to possibly set a timeframe for foreign troops to hand over to Afghan forces starting as early as 2010.
"I have offered London as a venue in the new year," he said in a speech.
"I want that conference to chart a comprehensive political framework within which the military strategy can be accomplished.
"It should identify a process for transferring district by district to full Afghan control and if at all possible set a timetable for transfer starting in 2010," he said. Related article: Al-Qeada on back-foot, says Brown
Brown had referred to January for the international conference in excepts of his speech released earlier Monday.
The proposal comes as the international mission grows unpopular in some of the 42 countries that make up the 100,000-strong foreign contingent in Afghanistan, including 65,000 from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Western leaders have insisted Afghan President Hamid Karzai tackle corruption as a condition for support in his second term which begins Thursday.
Brown, tipped to lose Britain’s general election next year to the opposition, is facing mounting pressure over the country’s involvement in the war amid waning public support as British casualties mount.
Five soldiers were shot dead earlier this month by a "rogue" Afghan policeman they were helping to train — marking a low point of Britain’s involvement in the eight-year conflict. Related article: UK to use cash to halt Taliban recruitment, says report
Brown conceded that international terrorism remained the biggest threat to Britain’s national security, singling out Osama bin Laden’s network.
But he said "methodically and patiently, we are disrupting and disabling the existing leadership of Al-Qaeda."
"Since January 2008 seven of the top dozen figures in Al-Qaeda have been killed, depleting its reserve of experienced leaders and sapping its morale.
"More has been planned and enacted with greater success in this one year to disable Al-Qaeda than in any year since the original invasion in 2001.
"We are in Afghanistan because we judge that if the Taliban regained power Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups would once more have an environment in which they could operate."
Opinion polls show an increasing majority of Britons want the country’s 9,000 troops to pull out of Afghanistan within 12 months.
Brown pointed to the fact that Al-Qaeda, which once operated from within Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban, has been pushed into the border area with Pakistan.
The prime minister’s spokesman told journalists ahead of the speech that Brown would emphasise that allied airstrikes and an offensive from the Pakistani army had left Al-Qaeda "on the back foot."
But Al-Qaeda is still taking strength from "an extensive recruitment network across Africa the Middle East, Western Europe — and in the UK," Brown said.
Brown said Britain must not retreat "into isolation" on foreign policy, but be both "patriotic and internationalist".
"As a nation we have every reason to be optimistic about our prospects: confident in our alliances, faithful to our values and determined as progressive pioneers to shape the world to come."
Meanwhile, a new British army field manual said soldiers should buy off potential Taliban recruits in Afghanistan with cash, a newspaper reported Tuesday, in new guidelines for the conflict.