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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Working out our Afghanistan strategy - facing difficult decisions

The Prime Minister has outlined Britain's future strategy in Afghanistan in a statement to MPs. Mr Brown announced a long-term and "comprehensive" framework for security, political, social and economic development for Afghanistan.

Statement on Afghanistan

It is over 100 years since Winston Churchill wrote of his military service near Afghanistan. The British Army would respond to an attack or outrage by a punitive strike on some villages or particular area. A large force would be summoned and the enemy engaged. Vicious fighting would ensue. The British on winning would leave behind burning houses and crops. But by retreating, the ground was given up once again.

There are similarities perhaps there with today's fighting. As in the late 1800s, the enemy can often be local inhabitants with tribal or ideological/religious allegiances. It is difficult for an occupying force (for that is how we are often seen) to work out the difference between friends and enemies. The stakes are high too. In Churchill's day there was felt a need for Britain to maintain a zone of influence and prevent Russian incursion. Today, we dare not leave Afghanistan for fear that terrorist training camps will return and their trainees attack our own countries.

There are differences. Today, we are trying to help the region develop and to hand the full running of the country completely over to the Afghan people. Yet the accounts of combat in some regions (such as Helmand) demonstrate that in many places little development is possible.

Gordon Brown's statement to the House of Commons today committed the UK to a long term commitment to supporting the Afghanistan government. Hard choices do face us. We must have clear and defined aims for British forces (as part of NATO) serving there. The international community must have a high-ranking political input in the country. And we must put more resources into the effort. If we - or our partners - cannot, then we need to find alternative strategies rather than go through another year of hard-fought combat with little durable result save the memories of the bravery and valour of our soldiers.

Click here for details of my Tribune article on Afghanistan, published in October 2007.

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