The Government is preparing to announce the deployment of hundreds more British troops to Afghanistan in readiness for an expected spring offensive by the Taliban, according to a report today.
Defence Secretary Des Browne is expected to make a Commons statement on Monday setting out details of the new deployment to reinforce the British taskforce in the troubled southern province of Helmand.
More than 1,000 extra troops - together with additional equipment - will be sent, according details apparently leaked after Mr Browne briefed the weekly meeting of the Cabinet at No 10 yesterday.
It follows the announcement this week that the British force in Iraq is to be reduced by 1,600 troops, easing the pressure on the Army. Nato commanders have been complaining for months that they do not have enough troops to inflict a decisive defeat on the Taliban.
One senior officer privately described it as a "Cinderella" operation, compared to Iraq. The alliance currently has some 35,000 troops in the country, including 5,600 British troops, mainly deployed in Helmand.
However there has been deep frustration within the alliance that the brunt of the fighting has been borne by troops from just a few countries - notably Britain, the United States and Canada. There has been particular criticism of countries such as France and Germany which have restricted their troops to operations in the more peaceful areas of the country.
In November, Tony Blair and President George Bush issued an appeal at the Nato summit in Riga for other member states to send troops to join the fighting.
Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said it was clear that their calls had fallen on deaf ears.
"Those troops should be coming from countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain who have so far not shown the adequate resolve to be part of a full Nato complement in Afghanistan," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"We have now had three reinforcements since the time that (then Defence Secretary) John Reid told us we were not going to be under-deployed in Afghanistan. It is clear that the Government has failed to get our Nato allies to carry their share of the burden in Afghanistan.
"Too many of our European partners are now pocketing the Nato security guarantee but leaving UK taxpayers and the UK military to carry the cost.
"It is clear now that our Army is so over-stretched we can’t carry two conflicts. We were told initially that there were no plans to reduce troops in Iraq to reinforce in Afghanistan. We now know the Government is not only incompetent but fundamentally dishonest."