Brown’s Afghan pull-out plan: what they’re saying
What commentators are saying about the prime minister’s proposal to set a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan
Gordon Brown used his set-piece foreign policy speech at the Lord Mayor's banquet last night to announce that Britain could set a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan in the New Year. Negotiations could begin at a UN-sponsored conference in London in January.
Amid faltering public support for the Afghan campaign, Brown said the idea of a pull-out was only possible because of the military success in killing large numbers of Taliban in Afghanistan.
Citing army reports that more than half of the Taliban's top brass had been eliminated in the last two years, the PM said the London conference could "chart a comprehensive political framework within which the military strategy can be accomplished. It should identify a process for transferring district by district to full Afghan control and, if at all possible, set a timetable for transfer starting in 2010".
With more than 230 military personnel dying in Afghanistan since 2001, it will soon outstrip the Falklands (255 dead) as the most deadly conflict for British forces since the Korean War.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Simon Tisdall, assistant editor, the Guardian: "British policy is currently held hostage to American political calculations. The unpalatable reality is, whoever holds power in Downing Street cannot exercise independent military options, however rational and necessary they may appear. Britain can nudge and push, as Gordon Brown has lately tried to do. But Obama isn't really listening to London or, indeed, to any of his Nato allies."
Editorial, the Daily Telegraph: "While the UK has many foreign-policy ambitions, defeating Islamists linked to al-Qaeda, either operating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan or taking their orders from there, must remain the medium-term priority. If the Nato mission in Afghanistan fails, it will encourage jihadis throughout the Middle East and the sub-continent, destabilise Pakistan and undermine the embryonic anti-clerical movement in Iran. Mr Brown's proposed London conference in January is [thus] welcome. It is important to establish clearly how success will be recognised."
Nigel Adderley, defence analyst, International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Guardian: "We are ingrained in a complex situation in Afghanistan and it would be totally inappropriate to pull out now. At the moment, ISAF troops are operating in an area of the country that is largely ungoverned. If troops begin to leave it is quite clear that others will move in. Al-Qaeda is pretty well under the cosh and has been largely pushed back into the ungoverned areas of Pakistan where the Pakistani army is at this moment mounting a big offensive against them. If we vacate the Afghanistan side of the border it is quite clear that al-Qaeda will move back in a big way."
Dr John Mackinlay, department of war studies, King's College London, the Guardian: "Gordon Brown's case for being in Afghanistan hinges on security on the streets of London. At the moment we are running two campaigns: one is an expeditionary campaign in Helmand, the other is a domestic campaign in the UK. But the expeditionary campaign is antithetical to the domestic campaign, because it pisses off your average Muslim punter in Bolton. If you have to give one campaign primacy, as sure as night follows day it must be the domestic campaign."
Editorial, Daily Mirror: "With Pakistan finally tackling militants plotting in its own mountains, al-Qaeda's being squeezed in the region. But Mr Brown talking about when troops may come home is also recognition of the public's unease over a conflict seemingly without end. To persuade a sceptical electorate that Afghanistan remains a war worth fighting he must hold out the prospect of a day when Afghanistan is responsible for its security. We welcome an international summit in London to sketch a timetable for withdrawal."
James Robbins, diplomatic correspondent, BBC News: "Gordon Brown must hope that his clearest pointer so far to an eventual way out of Afghanistan for Britain's frontline forces will quieten calls for an immediate pull-out. The prime minister very deliberately made clear his hope that the process of handing security control in Afghanistan to the country's own security forces should begin in 2010, with crucial decisions to be taken at the international conference. But the PM also made clear that he regards Britain's military presence as vital to protect ordinary people at home from plots hatched in Pakistan by al-Qaeda extremists, who would spread back into Afghanistan if allowed the opportunity to do so." ·
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