(Edited from AP, London) Britain’s new government publicly assured the United States on Tuesday that it remains committed to its central role in the war in Afghanistan, despite heavy losses in what U.S. defense chief Robert Gates called the “absolute middle of the thick of the fight.”

Britain’s new coalition government is considered less invested in the eight-year Afghan war than its Labour predecessor, and eager to offer an exit plan to a public increasingly impatient with the stalemate.

(Edited from AP, London) Britain’s new government publicly assured the United States on Tuesday that it remains committed to its central role in the war in Afghanistan, despite heavy losses in what U.S. defense chief Robert Gates called the “absolute middle of the thick of the fight.”

Britain’s new coalition government is considered less invested in the eight-year Afghan war than its Labour predecessor, and eager to offer an exit plan to a public increasingly impatient with the stalemate.

British Defense Minister Liam Fox said that upon taking the job last month, “the first question I asked myself was, ‘Should we be in Afghanistan?’“

“The answer had to be, of course, yes. We still have a national security imperative,” Fox said.

That was a relief to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, standing beside Fox following a meeting that also focused on the Iranian nuclear threat.

With 9,500 forces in Afghanistan, Britain has the second-largest number of forces in the war after the United States. Britain helps manage the war’s heaviest fighting across southern Afghanistan and has also been a leader in recruiting help for the war from NATO nations, where the fight has always been unpopular.

The Obama administration needs Britain most among its allies in Afghanistan as it expands the war this year and then looks for ways to shrink it in 2011.

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