ON (AFP) - Britain played down Thursday the prospect of sending more troops to Afghanistan in the near future, after Afghan President Hamid Karzai held talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London.
Speaking a day after two more British soldiers were killed in the violence-scarred country, and as a poll suggested public support for pulling forces out, Brown's spokesman reiterated London's long-term support for Kabul.
"The UK is committed to maintaining troops in Afghanistan until the government of Afghanistan has built sufficient capacity to maintain a stable security situation and the rule of law," he said. But asked after the Downing Street talks if extra British forces were set to be deployed, he said: "I don't agree with the assertion that we now look like we are sending more troops."
Speculation over a possible change of US strategy, shifting focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, has grown as Barack Obama prepares to take over from US President George W. Bush on January 20.
Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta met British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in London on Wednesday and called openly for more international troops on the front line in the south of the country.
But the Downing Street spokesman said Thursday's talks had focused on how British operations in Afghanistan could be enhanced, rather than the possibility of more troops being sent.
Neither did Karzai refer to the prospect of more troops - and insisted that violence in his country was not getting worse, saying after the talks that it was at the same level "as it was for the past year or two."
"The whole effort is to make it better and to bring violence down," he said in brief remarks cited by the BBC.
The comments came after a poll Wednesday suggested that more than two-thirds - 68 per cent - of respondents believed British troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan next year. Only 24 per cent said British soldiers should stay there.
The Ministry of Defence admitted that the government needed to do more to win public backing for the Afghan conflict.
"We need to do more to explain to the UK public why it's so important that the UK continues to support the government of Afghanistan and the international presence in Afghanistan," said a spokesman.
The two latest deaths in Afghanistan took the combined toll of British military fatalities there and in Iraq to 300.
British charity Oxfam's head of policy for Afghanistan, Matt Waldman, meanwhile warned of a looming aid crisis in the country this winter.
"There is an impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan with millions of people already facing hunger, and the situation is compounded by higher levels of insecurity than at any point since 2001," he said.
Brown's spokesman underlined the importance of British forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, alluding to this week's commemorations of the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I.
"It is important to remember - particularly this week, when we have been remembering the contribution made across generations by our armed forces - the ongoing commitment of our soldiers, sailors and airmen in Afghanistan and in Iraq and the contribution they are making to our security," he said.