Brown defends UK role after 15 soldiers killed in ten days
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says the West will only be secure if militancy is defeated in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan even as Britons ponder the loss of 15 soldiers in the first ten days of July.
“The last ten days have been extraordinarily difficult. My thoughts are with the families of the brave servicemen who have been killed. The sacrifice that they have made in the service of our country will never be forgotten,” he said as the British death toll of 184 dead in Afghanistan exceeded the 179 dead in the Iraq conflict. “While I know there are some who have questioned our strategy, I continue to believe our strategy is the right one.”
UK forces have suffered heavy casualties in Operation Panther’s Claw which is attempting to secure parts of volatile Helmand province prior to August elections in Afghanistan. On July 10, six U.S. soldiers were killed to bring the tally of deaths in the first ten days of July to 15.
The fatalities have drawn criticism and a public questioning of the U.K’s role in Afghanistan. Some have called it the UK’s Vietnam. But in a letter to Alan Williams, chair of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, Brown defended the strategy saying most terrorist attacks on the UK have arisen from the volatile Afghan-Pakistan border.
Brown is to meet with liaison committee on July 16.
“Eight years ago the problem was the Taleban regime in Afghanistan. After violently seizing power in the 1990s, they ruled the country with utter brutality and contempt for human rights – and provided a safe haven to Al Qaeda. It is right that we helped to remove a regime which allowed Al Qaeda to plot terror around the world, culminating in the attacks on 9/11,” he said in letter to the House committee.
“So in 2001 the case for intervention in Afghanistan was to take on a global terrorist threat and prevent terrorist attacks in Britain and across the world. In 2009 the overriding reason for our continued involvement is the same – to take on, at its source, the terrorist threat, and prevent attacks here and elsewhere.
“Eight years ago we removed the Taleban from power, and drove Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. As Al Qaeda relocated to the remote mountains of Pakistan’s northwest frontier province and federally administered tribal areas, a new crucible of terrorism has emerged straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
“The Director-General of our Security Service has said that three quarters of the most serious plots against the UK have links into these mountains.”
“The Director-General of our Security Service has said that three quarters of the most serious plots against the UK have links into these mountains. So our purpose is clear: to prevent terrorism coming to the streets of Britain. Our security depends on strengthening the Pakistan and Afghan Governments to defeat both Al Qaeda and also the Pakistan and Afghan Taleban.
“If in Pakistan, the Taleban are allowed to overwhelm Pakistan’s democracy, Al Qaeda would once again have greater freedom from which to launch terrorist attacks across the world – and the longer term implications for the stability of this crucial region, and for global stability, could be more serious still. If, in Afghanistan, extremists return to power and once again provide a safe haven for Al Qaeda, then the same threat of global terrorism arises.
“So this is a fight to clear terrorist networks from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to support the elected governments in both countries against the Taleban, to tackle the heroin trade which funds terrorism and the insurgency, and to build longer term stability.
“To succeed in one of the two countries would mean that Al Qaeda could still attack us from the other.
“Progress in one of the two countries will never be sustainable without progress in both. This is why our strategy, published in April, reflects an integrated approach across both countries. It sets out why it is both in our interest to train the Afghan forces to resist the return of the Afghan Taleban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and in our interest to support Pakistan’s security and armed forces against Al Qaeda and the Pakistan Taleban in Pakistan.