LONDON – Facing surging public opposition to the war in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivered a stinging rebuke Friday to the government in Kabul, threatening to withhold additional British troops if it did not act swiftly to combat widespread corruption.
Using his toughest language to date, Brown called on the administration of President Hamid Karzai to take dramatic steps to clean up government in the wake of flawed elections, including the creation of a new, independent anti-corruption commission with powers of investigation and prosecution.
“I am not prepared to put the lives of British men and women in harm’s way for a government that does not stand up against corruption,” he said.
It marked the most direct threat yet from the British – who maintain the largest number of troops in Afghanistan after the United States – to reconsider their support for Karzai. As the Obama administration seeks to recalibrate the war effort, the British are also contemplating sending an additional 500 troops there, bringing their total to 9,500.
Confronting public outrage over a new string of British casualties this week, Brown on Friday also delivered an impassioned defense of the war at large, calling it vital to British national security. Britain, Brown said, “cannot, must not and will not walk away” from Afghanistan.
Brown’s policy speech came as seven British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan this week, including five in one day when a renegade Afghan police officer turned on British soldiers with a machine gun.