Troops out! Pressure grows to stop wasting lives in Afghanistan
‘Green on blue’ killings are last straw for politicians who agree British lives are being sacrificed needlessly
CRACKS are growing in the cross-party consensus on the war in Afghanistan because of the increasing number of British soldiers being killed by the Afghan recruits they are meant to train.
The Daily Mail today leads the charge with its report of the murder of Private Tom Wroe, 18, and Sgt Gareth Thursby, 29, a father of two, by an Afghan security recruit under the headline: 'How many more wasted lives?'
BBC News is reporting that, according to ISAF sources, routine Nato training operations with Afghan trainees are to be scaled back in response to the rising death toll of 51 from 'green on blue' killings, including nine British soldiers this year.
Private Wroe and Sgt Thursby were shot by an Afghan trainee with an assault rifle as they went to give him first aid for a minor injury to his foot. “Their deaths are the latest in a sickening spate of ‘green on blue’ attacks,” says the Mail.
Anger at the killings spilled out in the Commons yesterday during a statement by Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary. Significantly, the call for troops to be pulled out by Christmas - nearly two years before the planned withdrawal in 2014 - came from former Thatcherite Cabinet minister John Redwood.
“Why don't we end the combat duties for our troops now, let the Afghans learn the remaining lessons by experience and bring our troops home for Christmas?,” said Redwood.
One factor in changing Redwood's mind about Afghanistan, he revealed in his online diary, was watching the BBC 'fly on the wall' documentary series Our War, filmed by British combat troops themselves.
It has revealed the grim truth behind the Afghan campaign - British troops are prevented by rules of engagement from shooting at the Taliban until they are fired on, leading to deliberate attempts by British patrols to incite fire fights; and the Taliban are being helped to ambush British patrols by villagers they are there to protect.
The series has shown how British troops are losing their lives to protect roads from being closed by the Taliban. That was never the aim of the mission when US-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to deny al-Qaeda its training camps after the 9/11 attacks on America.
Labour mavericks have regularly questioned the wisdom of the war. Denis MacShane said yesterday the government was allowing British soldiers to "be sacrificed without any purpose". But until now, the cross-party consensus over the war has held, because Westminster wants to avoid accusations of demoralising or undermining British troops while they are serving on the frontline.
The Daily Mail headline is a worry for David Cameron, who will fear losing the support of Middle England for the war in Afghanistan.
He will also be worried by a report this morning by the UK Defence Association, a pressure group formed by a string of former defence chiefs, that the cuts in defence announced by Hammond are making it impossible for the MoD to meet its commitments, including those in Afghanistan.
Written by Andrew Roberts, the Conservative historian, it warns Cameron he risks going down in history as one of the 'Guilty Men' - a charge last made against the Appeasers in 1940. The huge commitment to Afghanistan is adding to the overstretch.
Hammond yesterday told Redwood that he would bring home more troops earlier than planned. The conference season could see Cameron and Hammond brought under pressure to pull the British troops back to their command centres, and then bring them home before 2014.