Afghanistan: what they are saying
Soldiers in Helmand remember their dead today as the battle rages between Army and Government
British troops in Helmand province are holding a private memorial service today for eight soldiers killed in the space of 24 hours at the end of last week. The deaths brought the toll for the first ten days of July to 15, making it the bloodiest period so far in the long campaign in Afghanistan.
The memorial service comes against the background of an unedifying split between British Army chiefs, past and present, and the Labour government.
Ministers are reported to be particularly angry with Britain's most senior solder, Chief of the General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt. He is understood to have complained privately to a group of Tory MPs about Labour's under-resourcing for troops numbers and equipment.
This came after the Government denied his request for resources to fund an 2,000 extra troops in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile Tory frontbenchers are piling on the pressure. Gordon Brown is accused by Liam Fox, the Conservatives' defence spokesman, of "the ultimate dereliction of duty" in sending troops to Afghanistan without adequate protection from the Taliban's roadside bombs.
Brown is expected to make a statement in the Commons today about Afghanistan, while Bob Ainsworth can expect a baptism of fire when he answers questions in the House for the first time since stepping up as Defence Secretary in the recent reshuffle. Senior Tories say he is "not up to the job".
Despite the bad blood at this level, however, and despite the rising death toll in the field, a new ICM poll has revealed a surprising level of support for the Afghanistan campaign among British people.
Opposition to the war, at 47 per cent, is just ahead of support, at 46 per cent. But the change of opinion since the last similar poll in 2006 is significant: backing for the war is up 15 points from 31 per cent, while opposition has fallen by six points, from 53 per cent.
"People appear reluctant to turn against a conflict while soldiers are fighting and dying on the front line, and the increasingly high-profile nature of the war appears to be strengthening public backing," reports the Guardian, which commissioned the poll in conjunction with BBC Newsnight.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Lord Guthrie, former Chief of the Defence Staff, talking to the Daily Mail: "The Army in Afghanistan is desperately short of helicopters and properly protected vehicles. It relies on three ancient RAF Tristars which break down constantly to move troops in and out of theatre. Alistair Darling says the Army can have anything it wants. But equipment cannot just be bought off the shelf. It takes months, if not years, to get into service."
Bob Ainsworth, Defence Secretary: "We are making progress. We are attacking the Taliban in one of their heartland areas. The reason they are standing and fighting is they know that what we are doing potentially hurts them seriously and strategically."
Max Hastings, Daily Mail: "I have been writing about defence and Whitehall spending wrangles for 40 years, but I have never known such bitterness as exists today. The Army's view is that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown committed our troops to fight wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, yet have always refused them the means they need to do the job."
Lt Col Robert Thomson, CO 2nd Battalion the Rifles, in a eulogy to be read out at today's memorial service: "I sensed each rifleman tragically killed in action today standing behind us as we returned to our posts and we all knew that each one of those riflemen would have wanted us to 'crack on'. And that is what we shall do - there will be no turning, the work is too important. We are undeterred. But we will miss each fallen rifleman sorely."
Liam Fox, shadow defence spokesman: "For this government to have sent our young people into battle without adequate equipment and protection is the ultimate dereliction of duty... Labour's decision to cut the helicopter budget in 2004 by £1.4?billion was catastrophic... For the Prime Minister to resort to spin rather than confronting the life-threatening reality that we face is incredible cynicism.”
The Mole, for The First Post: "With every British death, the demands for a fresh approach will increase... So far there has been no great 'troops out' movement as there was with the Iraq war, but that may not last."
Lord 'Paddy' Ashdown, former Lib-Dem leader and soldier: "It is a war we have to win. But it is a war we are currently losing and the dynamic has been accelerating away from us. The consequences of not winning it are grave. If we lose southern Afghanistan, if we lose to the Taliban, then al-Qaeda will be back." Ashdown said Britain had made "classic errors" in Helmand. "The army were persuaded, for political reasons, to follow a Beau Geste strategy putting people, our people, out in forward forts, largely because the politicians were persuaded by [Afghan President] Karzai that this was where his supporters and family lived. It led to a military error of major proportions."
Bruce Anderson, the Independent: "Since Mr Brown became PM, there has been talk of services' days and a minister for veterans. The new PM has regularly tried to wrap himself in khaki, whenever he thinks that there might be votes in it. Yet he has done nothing to remedy the deficiencies which he spent ten years creating [as Chancellor]... Brown chose to perpetuate a regime of neglect which was bound to lead to unnecessary deaths. He is morally guilty of corporate manslaughter."
Lord (Tom) King, former Conservative Defence Secretary: "Some serious political mistakes have been made and the duty of the politicians responsible for them is to make everything available now, so that the problems that have arisen can be overcome." He says US forces in Helmand have "eight times as many helicopters for the number of troops they have out there".
Editorial, New York Times: American planners propose expanding it [the Afghan army] to as many as 260,000 troops — roughly the size of Iraq’s Army...The Pentagon estimates that it would cost $10 billion to $20 billion over a seven-year period to create and train a force that size. Paying it would cost billions more, especially if the current $100-a-month salary is to become more competitive with the $300 the Taliban pays. The total bill would still be a lot smaller than the cost of sustaining a huge American fighting force there. By the end of this year, there will 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan, costing American taxpayers more than $60 billion a year. ·
Comments are now closed on this article