Essex MP calls for Afghan policy change

A FORMER Shadow Secretary of State for Defence has called for a radical rethink of military policy in Afghanistan after attending a NATO summit in Bucharest.

Roddy Ashworth

A FORMER Shadow Secretary of State for Defence has called for a radical rethink of military policy in Afghanistan after attending a NATO summit in Bucharest.

Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for North Essex, said that unless other European countries could commit a further two battle groups of around 5,000 soldiers to the campaign the West should scale down its ambitions in the country.

His comments come shortly after 2,500 soldiers from the Colchester-based 16 Air Assault Brigade set off to begin a six-month stint in the war-torn Helmand Province in the south of country.

Mr Jenkin claimed the Afghan Government was completely ineffective and rife with corruption and that violence was escalating.

The country, whose economy largely relies on the production of billions of dollars worth of opium per year, is currently ruled by a coalition headed by President Hamid Karzai.

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Mr Jenkin said: “The Karzai administration is a very fragile coalition - and the reason it is fragile is that many members of the government have close connections with the drugs industry.

“We have got to have a complete reappraisal of what the strategy is. NATO, the United Nations, the European Union and the Americans are together attempting their most ambitious civil reconstruction and counter insurgency operation ever.

“It is the biggest attempt at nation building since the Second World War. Without the extra battle groups it is just impossible.”

Mr Jenkin added he believed that, given current troop levels, the ambitious plans to rebuild the country should be scaled back and instead its current structures should be retained, provided the goal of keeping terrorist groups out was maintained.

“Ultimately, we should be asking whether or not what we are doing is helping the ordinary Afghan, and we have to ask about the amount of money and the amount of our people's blood we are spilling,” he said. “The question is: 'At the end of the day, are we going to achieve what we set out to achieve?' And at the moment, with the number of soldiers we have, I am afraid the answer is no.”

Mr Jenkin is a member of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee and was Shadow Secretary of State for Defence from 2001 to 2003.

He visited Afghanistan last year and is due to return again in the summer.

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