Victory essential in Afghanistan

AS the body bags carrying fallen service personnel arrive back home from Afghanistan, doubts are growing over the UK's intervention.Seven British soldiers, including Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards, have been killed in the past week in operations to eliminate the Taleban.

Graham Dines

AS the body bags carrying fallen service personnel arrive back home from Afghanistan, doubts are growing over the UK's intervention.

Seven British soldiers, including Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards, have been killed in the past week in operations to eliminate the Taleban.

After September 11 2001, the United States demanded retribution and revenge. It was an obvious reaction and aided by the Royal Navy, the Americans bombed and rocketed Afghanistan in an attempt to liquidate bin Laden who was believed to have been holed up in one of the many caves in that mountainous country.


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We were right to join this crusade. But it all started to go wrong when the US and UK intervened in Iraq. Afghanistan was no longer the primary goal for the British and the

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“I believe that it is in Britain's national interest, as well as the interest of the civilised world, that we do not allow Afghanistan to revert once more to a rogue state”

- Bob Russell, MP for Colchester

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Americans, and as shock and awe were unleashed against Baghdad, our forces in Afghanistan became the forgotten army.

Nearly eight years on from World Trade Centre abomination, we are in danger of becoming involved in a humiliating retreat from Afghanistan - just like the Soviets two decades ago.

Now that our attention is once again focussed on Helmand and Kabul, it coincides with a higher rate of attrition resulting in an alarming increase in British troops being killed.

Is it worth it? On balance it is but the taxpayers need to understand that for the army, marines, air force and navy to succeed, they must be provided with the latest state-of-the art equipment. We should not put them into battle with sub standard and aging tanks, munitions, personnel carriers, aircraft and warships.

The strategic defence review ordered this week by the Government will be carried out at a time when the public finances are under extreme pressure. In order to protect health care and education, there will be calls to cancel essential military spending programmes.

Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for the garrison town of Colchester, says: “Unlike Iraq, what is happening in Afghanistan has the backing of the UN and involves a lot of countries - although I am critical that other major European countries are not putting troops on the ground in southern Afghanistan.

“I believe that it is in Britain's national interest, as well as the interest of the civilised world, that we do not allow Afghanistan to revert once more to a rogue state from where terrorism is exported around the world including into our own country.

“I therefore support Britain's involvement. I deplore, however, the failure of other major European countries to support what we are doing in southern Afghanistan. Bringing peace and prosperity to Afghanistan is in the interests of every European country. Our major European allies have got to show greater commitment.”

Standing in for Gordon Brown at Prime Minister's Questions this week, Commons Leader Harriet Harman said no one should be in any doubt about the importance of the mission in Afghanistan.

“It is important to ensure that in the mountainous regions surrounding Afghanistan and Pakistan, we do not have a crucible for the development of terrorism, which threatens people not only in those countries but in the wider region and, indeed, the whole world.

“This mission is also important for the education of people in Afghanistan. There are now 6 million children in school in that country, compared with only 1 million in early 2001. Our troops have paved the way, working with other international forces, to make that possible.

“They are paving the way for economic development and a more secure democracy as well as security in the region and the world. We want to make it clear to our soldiers, their families and the people of this country that we have no doubt about the importance of the mission in Afghanistan.”

Answering deputy Tory leader William Hague who called for “the best possible protection and mobility for our forces there, including the earliest possible increase in the number of helicopters and armoured vehicles,” Ms Harman said: “There is no complacency about that. We have increased the number of armoured vehicles that have been procured for and made available to our troops.

“We have increased the number of helicopters by 60% over the past two years, but we recognise that we should do more. We want to do more not only for their personal protection but in recognition of the importance of their mission in Afghanistan, not only to that country but to the region and to the security of this country.”

EAST ANGLIAN KNIGHTS ON THE WAY OUT

TIME is running out on the parliamentary careers of either or both Sir Alan Haselhurst and Sir Michael Lord.

The two knighted Conservative septuagenarians will have to receive the backing of a majority of MPs if they wish to carry on as deputies to new Speaker John Bercow.

With the election of a Tory Speaker, only one of the three deputies can come from the opposition parties. It could even be that Labour's majority in the Commons could be used to propel a Liberal Democrat into the role.

Sir Alan (MP for Saffron Walden) and Sir Michael (Suffolk Central & Ipswich North) were chosen by the whips to become deputy speakers after the Tories were thrashed in the 1997 election. At the time, Betty Boothroyd was in the chair and she was followed by another Labour nominee, Michael Martin.

Sir Alan became principal Deputy Speaker with the additional duties as Chairman of Ways and Means - an archaic title harping back to the times when a previous Speaker defrauded parliament. Ever since, the Chairman of Ways and Means is in charge of the Commons when the Chancellor delivers his annual Budget.

As I wrote last week, the two East Anglian knights might well be considering during the summer recess whether to continue as MPs after the next election. Sir Alan has represented Saffron Walden for 32 years and Sir Michael was first elected to his Suffolk seat in 1983.

Will they be happy returning to the backbenchers? In particular, the prospects for Sir Michael of clinging on as a deputy are virtually nil given his humiliating experience in the election for a new Speaker when he garnered just nine votes.

The choice of who should become a deputy to the Speaker has traditionally been left to the patronage of the whips. But Mr Bercow is proposing that for the first time, MPs should vote for the three deputies.

“In a modern democracy which puts Parliament first, I am convinced that the choice of such office holders should be determined not by consultation but by process of election,” he said in a statement to the Commons, in which he said a change of deputies was “appropriate”' in order to restore political balance after his own election.

“I am proposing that a ballot or ballots should be conducted in the House to choose one deputy speaker from the opposition side and two from the Government side of the House,” I hope to bring this about shortly after the House returns in October.”

He described the work of Sir Alan and Sir Michael - and Labour deputy Sylvia Heal - as “outstanding” when they chaired the Commons.

I suspect that won't save them as the new broom of reform sweeps through the Commons.

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