Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Report Takes Aim at Afghan Mission; MPs Want the Army to Focus on Security

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Report Takes Aim at Afghan Mission; MPs Want the Army to Focus on Security

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Woodcock

THE Ministry of Defence last night rejected claims that Britain's military efforts in Afghanistan have been undermined by "mission creep".

A report from the cross-party Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said the United Kingdom should give up its lead role for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan and concentrate on security.

It said the international community had delivered "much less than it promised" since the toppling of the Taliban in 2001 and blamed several of Britain's Nato allies for failing to pull their weight.

But the report said the Government had allowed Britain's effort to be dissipated into a growing list of responsibilities including drugs, human rights and state-building, that have made it more difficult for ministers to explain convincingly to the public the purpose of the mission. Britain's deployment of a military force to Helmand province in 2006, it added, was "undermined by unrealistic planning at senior levels, poor co-ordination between Whitehall departments and, crucially, a failure to provide the military with clear direction."

After the bloodiest month of the conflict, which saw 22 British troops killed in July, a former Foreign Office minister yesterday said he believed the public were losing the stomach for a prolonged commitment in Afghanistan.

Kim Howells, now the chairman of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, said: "I don't think anybody is going to wear the notion of us being in Afghanistan for 30 years and seeing this terrible drip-drip of casualties and deaths and funerals. I don't think the public are up for it any more."

Defence minister Bill Rammell, who has just returned from Afghanistan, said troops on the ground were very clear about their mission and confident that they were making progress.

But former army chief General Sir Mike Jackson backed the findings of the MPs' report, saying: "It seems to me that there is nothing there with which I am going to disagree in any substantive way."

TALIBAN TALKS

THE top United Nations official in Afghanistan yesterday called for talks with Taliban leaders at the highest level. …

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