Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

British PM defends Afghan mission

Premier justifies action as death toll mounts and support wanes, but report says he is planning a Nato meeting in 2010 over an 'exit strategy'.

LONDON // Military operations in Afghanistan this year have done more to disrupt al Qa'eda terrorism than at any time since the 2001 invasion, the British prime minister claimed yesterday.

At a time when the rising death toll among British troops is dramatically undermining public support for the war, Gordon Brown launched a vigorous defence of UK policy during his traditional foreign affairs speech at the annual Lord Mayor of London's banquet. He issued a stark warning that, if the international force pulled out of Afghanistan in the face of Taliban attacks, al Qa'eda would return in strength and bring terror to the streets of London and cities throughout the world. However, even before he made his speech, the London Evening Standard revealed that Mr Brown was calling a Nato meeting in 2010 - to which the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, will be invited - to formulate what the newspaper described as an "exit strategy" from Afghanistan over the next few years.

In his speech, Mr Brown acknowledged that a meeting was being planned for January. He described it as "a conference to chart a comprehensive political framework within which the military strategy can be accomplished". He added: "It should identify a process for transferring district by district to full Afghan control and set a timetable for transfer starting in 2010." British ministers have been forced to mount a "hearts and minds" offensive in support of the British mission after 233 soldiers' deaths in Afghanistan, almost 100 of them so far this year.

The Independent on Sunday published an opinion poll this week showing that an unprecedented 71 per cent favoured a phased withdrawal of UK troops over the coming year. Reiterating the government's position that al Qa'eda poses the greatest threat to Britain's security, Mr Brown rejected a policy of "splendid isolation" in favour of one that was both "patriotic and internationalist". It was only through "leading in the construction of a new global order" that Britain could best defend its own national interests, he said.

This month, Mr Brown said al Qa'eda was not currently operating in Afghanistan but he warned yesterday that the organisation had "several hundred" fighters still based in the tribal areas of northern Pakistan, attending training camps to learn bomb-making and weapons skills. The prime minister also said the terrorist group had "an extensive recruitment network across Africa, the Middle East, western Europe and in the UK".

He went on: "We are in Afghanistan because we judge that, if the Taliban regained power, al Qa'eda and other terrorist groups would once more have an environment in which they could operate. "Vigilance in defence of national security will never be sacrificed to expediency. Necessary resolution will never succumb to appeasement. The greater international goodwill will never be subordinated to the mood of the passing moment.

"So I vigorously defend our action in Afghanistan and Pakistan because al Qa'eda is today the biggest source of threat to our national security - and to the security of people's lives in Britain." Mr Brown said the involvement of UK troops in Afghanistan was "not an alternative to action in Pakistan, but an inseparable support to it". Flatly rejecting the clamour for Britain to pull out of the International Security and Assistance Force and bring its troops home, Mr Brown said: "Now, more than ever, there is no future in what was once called 'splendid isolation'.

"When Britain is bold, when Britain is engaged, when Britain is confident and outward-looking, we have shown time and again that Britain has a power and an energy that far exceeds the limits of our geography, our population, and our means." According to yesterday's Evening Standard, the meeting in January will "fix priorities and a strategy to fulfil the military mission by empowering Afghanistan to fight the Taliban unaided.

"The event is hoped to have a galvanising effect on the war leadership. Mr Brown will also use it to increase pressure on Nato allies, particularly in Europe, to send more troops and military resources to ensure it is a success." dsapsted@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greeted by university students as he leaves Sistan University in Sistan and Baluchestan’s provincial capital of Zahedan on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

In Iran’s most troubled province, Rouhani hears pleas for change

Hassan Rounani aims to connect with residents of far-flung Sistan and Baluchestan province.

 Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Riyadh on March 3, 2007. Hassan Ammar / AFP Photo

Saudi Prince Bandar promised a victory he could not deliver

Saudi Arabia's controversial intelligence chief stepped down this week after rumours that his policies on Syria had fallen out of favour.

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen. AFP Photo

The inner workings of Gulen’s ‘parallel state’

Fethullah Gulen's followers are accused of trying to push Turkey's prime minister from power.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National