LONDON - Taliban fighters can win a role in Afghanistan's future if they renounce violence, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said yesterday as he pledged a long-term troop presence and aid commitments for the country.
Brown told lawmakers that Britain would support efforts by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to bring former insurgents into mainstream politics.
"If they are prepared to renounce violence and abide by the constitution and respect basic human rights, then there is a place for them in the legitimate society and economy of Afghanistan," Brown told the House of Commons.
He said Britain would not hold direct talks with former Taliban fighters but would support the attempts by Karzai's officials to widen Afghanistan's political sphere.
Brown also urged neighboring countries to do more to help political reconciliation in Afghanistan. "Iran, too, must start to play a more constructive role," he said.
Britain is helping to identify members of the Taliban - particularly midlevel commanders - who are ready to take part in mainstream politics, a senior government official told reporters. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
Officials said Afghan-led reconciliation efforts were focused on middle- and lower-ranking Taliban fighters.
"Already some 5,000 fighters have laid down their arms," Brown said. British officials said 70 high- or middle-ranking Taliban leaders had been killed this year.
Brown said Britain would keep about 7,800 troops in Afghanistan for the long term, without specifying a limit on how long soldiers could stay. Some British military chiefs have suggested troops would be required for decades.
More than 50
Taliban fighters who fled a key southern Afghan town were killed in a two-day battle as the militants tried to attack a nearby government center,
the Defense Ministry said yesterday.
- fought by Afghan soldiers aided by NATO air strikes - took place in Sangin,
in Helmand province. Sangin is close to Musa Qala, which Taliban fighters abandoned this week in the face of an offensive by Afghan, British and U.S. forces.
"When the terrorists
were defeated in Musa Qala, they escaped to Sangin and started firing in and around Sangin," the Defense Ministry said.
In the east,
two NATO soldiers were killed and three were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their convoy,
the alliance said.