British troops to leave Bosnia

Opposition says government "scratching around" for troops to send to Afghanistan.

    Blair announced last week that 1,600 troops
    would be pulled out of southern Iraq [AP]

    Spring offensive
    Most will go to Helmand province in the south in the run-up to the expected spring offensive by the Taliban.
    Tony Blair, the British prime minister, said last week that 1,600 British personnel were being pulled out of southern Iraq.


    "Our armed forces are carrying a heavy and disproportionate burden in Helmand"

    Liam Fox, Conservative Party defence spokesman

    "It's clear that, as overstretch hits hard, the government is having to scratch around to find anywhere from which it can withdraw troops to then send to Afghanistan," Liam Fox, the Conservative Party defence spokesman, said.


    "Our armed forces are carrying a heavy and disproportionate burden in Helmand. As our deployment increases, more and more of our servicemen and women are feeling the pressure."




    Nato countries including Germany, France, Italy and Spain have faced criticism from the US and Britain for not contributing enough to the campaign, and last week Browne called for more nations to commit extra resources to the Afghan mission.


    A spokesperson for the British military said that the cut in troops is following a trend.


    "Bosnians are able to handle any problems, should they arise," he said. "The decision is a political decision made in Brussels by the EU after a long political analysis."


    What's next for Kosovo?


    European Union defence ministers began talks on Thursday focused on the Balkans, amid hopes that a compromise will be found on Kosovo's future status.


    "The situation in Bosnia is way better. Security is going very well, politically there are still a lot of things to do, " said Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, as he arrived for the meeting.


    In December, EU foreign ministers noted that security in Bosnia had evolved enough to permit them to "decide in principle on a transition" to lower troop numbers.


    "I hope and I wish that the two sides can show a willingness to reach a compromise," Franz-Josef Jung, German defence minister, said as he arrived to chair the meeting.


    For the time being, the 27 EU countries "can only prepare as much as they can so that when the time comes they can be as efficient, clear and precise as possible," the diplomat said.


    Russian veto


    The 16,000-strong Nato force in Kosovo will continue to lead military operations there, but the ministers will also look at ways to improve cooperation between the EU and the western alliance.


    On Wednesday, Jean-Paul Perruche, the outgoing head of the EU military staff, said the troop reduction would take "three or four months" but that the force would be able to do a quick about face if trouble arose.


    Cutting the size of Eufor in Bosnia will free up forces for use elsewhere as peacekeeping and security operations abound.


    Serbian and Kosovo authorities are at loggerheads over how much autonomy the province should be granted, and Russia is threatening to use its security council veto to block any attempt to impose independence.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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