World

Karzai blames Britain for return of Taliban

Britain is defending its forces against comments by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in which he reportedly accused them of making the security situation in the country's volatile south worse.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused British troops of making the security situation worse in parts of southern Afghanistan, saying the area "suffered" after their arrival.

Speaking to a group of journalists at the Davos Economic Forum on Thursday, Karzai said he shouldn't have listened to British and U.S. officials who said he should remove the local security forces that were already in place in Helmand province, The Times reported.

Britain has about 7,700 military personnel in the area, most of them fighting a resurgent Taliban in the country's south.

"There was one part of the country where we suffered after the arrival of the British forces," Karzai said. "Before that we were fully in charge of Helmand. When our governor was there, we were fully in charge.

"They came and said, 'Your governor is no good'. I said 'All right, do we have a replacement for this governor; do you have enough forces?'. Both the American and the British forces guaranteed to me they knew what they were doing and I made the mistake of listening to them.

"And when they came in, the Taliban came."

When asked if he blamed Britain for the return of the Taliban, Karzai said: "I just described the situation of mistakes we made. The mistake was that we removed a local arrangement without having a replacement.

"We removed the police force. That was not good. The security forces were not in sufficient numbers or information about the province. That is why the Taliban came in. It took us a year and a half to take back Musa Qala. This was not failure but a mistake," Karzai said.

But Britain's Foreign Office rejected the claim, saying its policy was to work in consultation with Karzai's government

"Our strategy in Helmand has been to work with the Afghan government to extend their authority throughout the province, creating a secure environment which allows political and economic development," a spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with ministry practice.

"Our armed forces have suffered losses and shown great determination and bravery to achieve that objective," the spokesman said.

Last week, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates sparked criticism after he suggested in a newspaper interview that NATO forces in southern Afghanistan do not know how to properly combat a guerrilla insurgency, and that could be contributing to rising violence in the country.

With files from the Associated Press