LONDON – British officials think U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will press them to contribute as many as 2,000 additional troops to fight in Afghanistan and that the U.K. will have a hard time turning him down, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Thursday.
Despite warnings that Britain's military is overstretched by commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the BBC said government ministers were considering sending reinforcements to Afghanistan in anticipation of a request from Obama, who takes office early next year.
Obama has repeatedly called for an increase in troops in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban and al-Qaida there. He has said he plans to add about 7,000 or 8,000 U.S. troops to the NATO mission, and British officials think he will lean on the U.K. to increase their contribution as well, the BBC said. It cited unnamed ministers and officials as the sources of its report.
Britain's Ministry of Defense said it had made no decision about moving additional troops to the country.
"The figure of 2,000 (reported by the BBC) is one that we do not recognize," a military spokesman said, speaking anonymously in line with policy. He said that while Britain recognized that there was a need for reinforcements in Afghanistan, he suggested that the need should be met by other NATO allies.
"The U.K. already has the second largest forces commitment to the Afghan mission," he said. "Much work has been done with our NATO partners to increase burden sharing to meet force level requirements."
British forces already have their hands full fending off the resurgent Taliban in southern Afghanistan. The number of British personnel who have died in Afghanistan hit 124 earlier Thursday when the military announced the death of two Royal Marines in an explosion in the Garmsir district of the restive Helmand province.
Military officials say the fierce fighting in Helmand and lengthy deployments in Iraq have left the British army with little capacity for any increased presence. Earlier this week Brown told reporters in London that that other nations needed to play a greater part in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.