LONDON - British soldiers should buy off potential Taleban recruits in Afghanistan with cash, according to a new Army field manual.

Army commanders should also talk to insurgent leaders with "blood on their hands" to speed up the end of the drawn-out conflict , the guide said.

The edicts, contained in rewritten counter-insurgency guidelines, will be given to all new Army officers, the Times said.

Commanders should give away enough money to dissuade Afghans from joining the Taleban, who pay about US$10 a day to recruit local fighters, the manual said.

"The best weapons to counter insurgents don't shoot. In other words, use bags of gold in the short term to change the security dynamics. But you don't just chuck gold at them, this has to be done wisely," Major General Paul Newton told the newspaper, at the launch of the document in London.

The manual came as Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a speech strongly defending Britain's military involvement in Afghanistan, amid waning public support at home as the number of soldiers killed grows.

A ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday showed that 71 per cent of voters want British troops withdrawn within a year.

The manual, the first such doctrine written by the British Army in eight years, highlights the importance of talking to the enemy.

"There's no point in talking to people who don't have blood on their hands," Newton said.

The manual said money can be the answer, if it is prudently distributed.

"Properly spent within a context of longer-term planning, money offers a cost-effective means for pulling community support away from the insurgents and provides the military with a much-needed economy of force measure," it said.

Brown offered to host an international conference on Afghanistan in London in the new year to possibly set a timeframe for military handover to Afghan forces starting in 2010.

In his annual foreign affairs address yesterday, Brown insisted that real progress was being made in the struggle against al Qaeda.

He said the London meeting should "identify a process for transferring [security] district by district" to the Afghan Army and police. Aides insisted he was talking about "a horizon and success rather than an exit strategy".

The Prime Minister said that since January last year, seven of the top figures in al Qaeda had been killed.

"More has been planned and enacted with greater success in this one year to disable al Qaeda than in any year since the original invasion in 2001," he said.

He revealed: "Our security services report that there is now an opportunity to inflict significant and long-lasting damage to al Qaeda. "

Since 2001, almost 200 people had been convicted of terrorist-related offences in Britain. "To those who say this threat is not real, I ask them to consider that almost half of those convicted pleaded guilty," he added.

"I vigorously defend our action in Afghanistan and Pakistan because al Qaeda is today the biggest source of threat to our national security and to the security of people's lives in Britain.

"We are in Afghanistan because we judge that if the Taleban regained power al Qaeda and other terrorist groups would once more have an environment in which they could operate."

- INDEPENDENT, AFP