Brown is ‘confident’ on Afghanistan
The Mole: If the PM turns out to be wrong on military resources, God help him, says our Westminster insider
The simple questions over what Britain is doing in Afghanistan, how long it should stay and whether the war is winnable are being asked more persistently than ever before. For Gordon Brown, this has turned into another major test of his leadership and credibility.
On Monday he stood at the despatch box in the Commons and confidently declared this was the right action to tackle the "crucible of terror" and that troop numbers and provision of kit were the right ones for the task. He told MPs: "I am confident that we are right to be in Afghanistan, that we have the strongest possible plan and we have the resources needed to do the job."
If that turns out to be wrong, if there is even greater loss of life which can be credibly linked to a lack of essential equipment, then Brown will face demands for his head.
It has already been claimed that military chiefs originally asked for 2,000 extra troops to complete the current operation in Helmand province and that was rejected by the Prime Minister who allowed only 700. Similarly the Prime Minister is under sustained attack for failing to deliver enough helicopters to the region to support troops who are suffering greater casualties than at any other time in the eight-year conflict.
There are serious concerns that the original objective of creating a stable, democratic Afghanistan is far too ambitious and that there is no clear exit strategy from a war that many believe could last for many more years.
It is now highly doubtful the British public would back a war lasting that long. The most recent poll suggest spublic opinion is evenly split over whether the troops should be pulled out. But there are signs that, for the first time, significant numbers of voters believe the action is making matters worse.
Even Brown's insistence that the operation is vital to tackle terrorism which is exported to the UK is under question as he has admitted himself that 75 per cent of terrorist activity can be tracked back to Pakistan rather than Afghanistan.
For the moment, the military action has the continuing support of the Tories. Despite attacks on Brown over troop numbers and equipment, there are no signs that the political consensus over the need to be in Afghanistan has collapsed.
If the military operation can succeed through the summer, the next big test will come in October, after the elections in Afghanistan and when Brown has pledged to reduce troop numbers back to previous levels of 8,300.
If that turns out to be impossible, if the death toll continues to escalate and claims of a lack of troops and kit persist, Brown will find himself with a full-blown crisis on his hands. ·
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