Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, on Sunday sought to mend frayed relations with Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s newly re-elected president, during a visit to see British troops in the war-torn country.
During an unannounced trip to southern Afghanistan, Mr Brown said the Afghan government needed to show its determination to confront the Taliban as the US and its allies send more troops to try to tackle the spreading insurgency.
“What we need to show is that there’s a determination to take on the Taliban and to weaken them, but also a determination on the part of the Afghan government to play a bigger part in the future,” Mr Brown said at a Kandahar air field.
Mr Brown pledged in October to send an extra 500 UK troops to raise the British contingent in the country to 9,500. The UK is the second largest contributor after the US.
The recent decision by US president Barack Obama to send a further 30,000 soldiers and marines will bring the size of the US footprint to almost 100,000 troops. In announcing the surge, Mr Obama said the troops would start to withdraw from July 2011.
British soldiers have witnessed heavy fighting in southern Afghanistan where rising casualties have made this year the deadliest for international forces since the 2001 invasion.
The deaths of 100 British soldiers in 2009 alone has fuelled criticism in the UK of Mr Brown’s handling of the conflict, sapping his popularity ahead of general elections due to take place by June.
Against a backdrop of mounting domestic opposition to the war, Mr Brown has been among the most outspoken critics of Mr Karzai among Western leaders.
Last month, Mr Brown describing Afghanistan as a “byword” for corruption, and said the Afghan leader must do more to tackle graft after he was declared the winner of elections tainted by huge fraud.
Mr Karzai hit back at Mr Brown in a recent interview, saying those comments were “extremely insulting”.
Mr Karzai flew to Kandahar for talks with Mr Brown on Sunday after the prime minister spent the night at the British military base. After meeting on Sunday, both leaders expressed public support for one another.
Mr Karzai said Mr Brown was an “extremely dignified person”.
“I’m happy and honoured indeed to call him a friend,” Mr Karzai told reporters when asked about his recent comments about Mr Brown. ”He has a relationship with me I can call very trustworthy.”
Mr Brown said the two men had ”the best of relations” and talked regularly on the telephone.