A leaked diplomatic cable says former British prime minister Gordon Brown complained to the Americans about the withdrawal of Canadian and Dutch troops from Afghanistan.

The document indicates Brown feared the departures would undermine public support for the war among NATO countries, particularly the United Kingdom.

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Gordon Brown, Britain's former prime minister, speaking to the media outside 10 Downing Street in May 2010. WikiLeaks cables reveal that Brown had complained about the withdrawal of Canadian and Dutch troops from Afghanistan. ((Simon Dawson/Associated Press)))

Online whistleblower WikiLeaks released the U.S. diplomatic message, which also shows Brown fretting over which nation could replace the departing allies in Afghanistan's volatile south.

The leaked cable, from September 2009, provides a rare, behind-the-curtain peek at how Canada's closest allies viewed the decision to quit the fighting by July this year.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay have said they felt no pressure from either Washington or London to stay in Kandahar, and that allies respected Parliament's decision to leave.

They both maintained that position, even as Harper announced Canada would switch to a training mission in Kabul last November. But the cable reveals an anxiety rarely voiced in public and suggests the U.S. tried to persuade Canada to station some troops at the provincial reconstruction base in Kandahar after combat operations ended.

Brown's comments were made during a visit to British and American soldiers in Helmand province in August 2009, and were made before the Obama administration decided to significantly raise American troop numbers.

Departures would affect public opinion

U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who at the time commanded NATO forces in Afghanistan, warned the British prime minister that the situation was "serious and deteriorating," but that it could be turned around with more troops.

McChrystal was pressuring Washington for an additional 40,000 soldiers.

The general briefed Brown about the progress of the first American troop surge, which started in the spring of 2009, and plans to turn the war into a full-blown counter-insurgency struggle.

'The PM said that if the Netherlands and CANADA (sic) left, public opinion in other countries, including his own, would suffer.' —WikiLeaks cable

Brown wondered how the departures would affect the strategy. "The PM said that if the Netherlands and CANADA (sic) left, public opinion in other countries, including his own, would suffer," said the diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

A few months prior to the meeting, Brown had authorized an additional 1,000 British troops for the fight in Helmand, and had dispatched another 700 for temporary duty during the September 2009 Afghan presidential election.

Brown saw the weight of the war increasingly falling on U.S. and British shoulders and asked: "Would there be extra burden sharing by those who had done so little?"

The question appeared to be a backhanded swipe at Germany, Italy and Spain which, despite significant troop concentrations, refused to allow their troops to operate in the volatile south.

U.S. ambassador and former general Karl Eikenberry suggested keeping Canadian and Dutch provincial reconstruction bases in place as a way to persuade both countries to stay.

The Dutch went ahead with their withdrawal last year and, like Canada, have volunteered to help train the Afghan army and police.