Friday, 6 November 2009

Brown tackles Afghan war as support falters

Gordon Brown will this morning pledge to stay the course in Afghanistan against mounting political and public disquiet over the eight year military campaign that has now cost 230 British lives.

At the end of grim week for British soldiers in Afghanistan Mr Brown is due to make a major speech in London in which he will restate his personal determination "not to walk away" from the war.

With increasing numbers of voters questioning why British troops are losing their lives in Afghanistan the Prime Minister will use speech to define the mission to deny Al Qaeda at training ground on the Afghan-Pakistan border from which to plot attacks on the UK.

With Remembrance Day approaching Mr Brown is due to set the mounting British losses in Afghanistan in the context of the sacrifice of British soldiers in WW1 and WWII, saying the fallen in the conflict would be remembered as heroes who "fight to protect freedom both in our nation and the world".

An as yet unamed serviceman from the 3rd Battalion, The Rifles was killed yesterday in an explosion in Afghanistan bringing to six the number of soldiers killed in the last 48 hours. This year 93 British service personnel have been killed in Afghanistan, making it the bloodiest year of the conflict to which 9500 troops are now committed.

SAS troopers are still seeking a rogue Afghan policeman who turned his weapon on British soldiers, killing five and wounding six, on Wednesday. The UN yesterday began withdrawing more than half its foreign staff from Kabul after five of its employees were killed in an attack last week.

With a call for British withdrawal by the former Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells adding to the sense that a tipping point is approaching for British involvement in Afghanistan a poll for Channel 4 news showed that public support for the war has fallen sharply.

Two weeks ago the Yougov poll showed 42% of the British public thought the Taliban could be defeated, while 48% thought they could not. Following the deaths of five British soldiers on Wednesday and President Karzi’s much-challenged victory in the recent election, just 33% of those questioned think the war can be won, while a clear majority, 57% think victory is no longer possible.

As a result, 35% now think all British troops should be withdrawn immediately – compared with 25% two weeks ago. Only 20% think they should remain in the country "as long as Afghanistan’s government wants them there" – down from 29% two weeks ago.

Lord Ashdown, the former Lib Dem leader who was vetoed by President Karza for the role of UN representative in Afghanistan, said the government had "completely failed both to make a cogent case for this war or to convince us that it has a strategy worthy of the sacrifices being made."

He added: "There is a real chance we will lose this struggle in the bars and front rooms of Britain before we lose it in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan."

Today Mr Brown is expected to say that Britain will not be deterred by setbacks and while he will emphasise the international nature of the forces in Afghanistan he will not bring any fresh news of an increased contribution from European Nato allies.

Despite the killing of five troops by an Afghan policeman they were training Mr Brown will state that the mentoring strategy will continue "because it is what distinguishes a liberating army from an army of occupation’.

Labour left-winger Paul Flynn MP said last night that politicians were "deluded" about the mission and that Britain was relying on an Afghan police force that was "endemically corrupt" He said: "We cannot succeed in Afghanistan and we must stop now sending our young men out there to die in vain."

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