Thursday, July 09, 2009

Two approaches to the war in Afghanistan

I've woken up this morning to two different articles on the war in Afghanistan. The first is by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in the Telegraph in which he outlines the ways in which the Government could improve the way it's dealing with the situation there. He highlights how lack of appropriate equipment is costing lives and calls on the Government to address this.

Nick is completely behind the need for military action in Afghanistan:

"I am a Liberal interventionist, who believes military action is justified when supported by reason and the law. I support the aim of our mission wholeheartedly: to stop Afghanistan reverting to a haven for terrorism, with its people oppressed and impoverished. To achieve that, military forces need to create enough space for stability and good governance to take root."

However, he also shows how the aims of the mission are being compromised and lives are being lost by sending troops into battle:

"If you send people to war, you must supply the resources they need, or you should not send them at all. Otherwise you are betraying the fundamental covenant between a nation and its armed forces. I am appalled that so many of our soldiers have been killed because of inadequate equipment, and disturbed to hear from experts that we don't have enough forces to hold and rebuild territory once it has been won."

Nick also highlights the need for all the various troops and organisations engaged in Afghanistan to be properly co-ordinated and highlights how the Government has failed to contribute properly to that.

He also looks to the future and shows how important it is to deal with corruption, to give the Afghan people confidence in the new political system. I would have liked it if Nick had also talked about the continuing injustices to women as highlighted this year by Amnesty as another issue that urgently needs to be tackled.

Nick isn't just randomly making this up. One of the things that has always impressed me about him is his willingness to listen and learn. On this he's been taking advice from Paddy Ashdown, who certainly knows a thing or two about military matters.

If we are sending our forces into battle without the equipment they need to protect themselves and help them achieve their mission, then that is surely a national disgrace. All this at the same time money is being wasted on ID cards and replacing Trident.

Compare and contrast with the approach of Tom Harris. He certainly makes a good case for the intervention in Afghanistan and how we need to deal with the brutally repressive Taliban. What worried me was his solution:

"British soldiers are fighting and dying in the campaign to build a democratic and free Afghanistan. We should be hoping and praying for their safety and for their success against the remnants of a vile and disgusting fascist regime."

I can't believe that anyone would think that hope and prayer was an acceptable substitute for good strategy and appropriate equipment. To lose people unnecessarily, through failure to protect them sufficiently is simply wrong and must stop now. It's an insult to the troops, their families and all of our intelligence to suggest that hope and prayer will bring them home safely when they are crying out to be given even the basics they need for survival and the success of their mission. It's cash, not prayer, that is needed to sort that out.

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