'FUTURE OF CAMPAIGN STILL IN THE BALANCE'

By Julian Lewis
Shadow Defence Minister

Southern Daily Echo – 12 September 2009

The results of the Echo’s survey on Afghanistan come as no surprise – but make uncomfortable reading, nevertheless. Most people support our troops, but opinion is divided on whether to withdraw, and only one in three now backs the intervention. In 2001, the reasons for action seemed obvious. Since then, Government thinking has lost direction. Let us try to clarify the mission.

We would not have entered Afghanistan to democratise its political system. We would not have forced our way in to eliminate its poppy crops. Still less would we have invaded to protect the rights of women to dress as they wish, or girls to be educated – worthy as all these causes are. We went into Afghanistan for one reason only – to eliminate the training-base of a fanatical terrorist organisation which murdered thousands of innocent civilians in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania.

The West was bound to retaliate against the Taliban regime. Al-Qaeda knew this perfectly well. That was why the greatest of the pro-Western Afghan leaders, General Masoud, was assassinated 48 hours before the attacks on America. The Echo’s poll is probably not a condemnation of our reasons for invading. Rather, it shows public concern at the announcement of casualties, day by day, with no end apparently in sight. There are also strong suspicions that our troops are under-resourced and under-equipped with protective vehicles and helicopters.

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda cannot defeat NATO militarily, so they aim to do this psychologically. People at home wonder why Servicemen and women seem to be deployed on the ground in ways which supply a procession of potential targets.

Progress was made in Iraq only after a massive increase in resources. NATO faces vital decisions on whether to attempt something similar, and whether this would have a comparable effect. The stakes could not be higher. This is not about Afghanistan alone. The source of the poison lies in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. The threat of a Taliban-style takeover of a nuclear-armed Pakistan is a crucial part of the strategic equation.

Not all the Taliban will be stooges of Al-Qaeda. They have no reason to thank the group which provoked the invasion of their country in the first place. Some may be amenable to a compromise, which would isolate the others who are irreconcilable. That is the way in which insurgencies often end. But our people at home need reassurance that progress will be made in this just and necessary campaign.