IS THIS WHAT THEY DIED FOR? These Ten British Soldiers Were Killed in an Operation to Let 80,000 Afghans Take Part in Elections. So How Many Bothered to Vote? Just 150

Daily Mail (London), August 27, 2009 | Go to article overview

IS THIS WHAT THEY DIED FOR? These Ten British Soldiers Were Killed in an Operation to Let 80,000 Afghans Take Part in Elections. So How Many Bothered to Vote? Just 150


Byline: Daniel Martin and Matthew Hickley

TEN British soldiers died in Afghanistan for the sake of just 150 votes in the country's election.

Operation Panther's Claw, which claimed their lives in ferocious fighting, was meant to improve security in the Babaji district of Helmand.

But only 150 of the 80,000 potential voters there braved Taliban threats to vote last week, it was reported yesterday.

The astonishingly low turnout in the presidential election poses massive questions about the war against the Taliban and the wider British role in Afghanistan.

Last night the grieving mother of the 200th soldier to die in the war expressed anger and despair that each British death was worth only 15 Afghan votes.

Hazel Hunt, whose 21-year-old son Richard was killed by a Taliban bomb, said: 'It makes you go numb when you hear something like this. It horrifies me.

The figures reflect terribly on our strategy in Afghanistan.' The voting report is a further blow to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, who had specifically linked Panther's Claw to making the area safe. On the day of the election, he said: 'Operation Panther's Claw was a tough fight, but it has brought nearly 80,000 Afghans out from under the tyranny of the Taliban and ensured that they can take part in this election.' Panther's Claw was launched in June to clear the Taliban from rural areas. As well as the ten British troops killed in the operation itself, at least 14 more died as the Taliban responded by stepping up attacks in other areas. Altogether, 207 British troops have died since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The apparent spectacular failure forced the UK ambassador to Afghanistan to defend our military effort yesterday.

Mark Sedwill did not deny the figure of 150 voters, reported by the BBC, although he said it was too early to tell the exact turnout .

But he admitted many people were intimidated by Taliban threats to cut off fingers marked with the indelible ink which showed someone had voted. Mr Sedwill also claimed the offensive had never been aimed specifically at providing security for last week's election.s. He said: 'This operation was going to happen at some stage anyway.' His summary of the aim of Panther's Claw directly contradicts both Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Mr Miliband said last month the operation 'will bring a further 80,000 people back under the authority of elected government. These people should also be able to participate in the elections.' Mr Brown, speaking on the day of the poll, said: 'I want to thank our British forces for everything they have done to make sure these elections can take place.' Last night Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said: 'If the turnout is as spectacularly low as suggested, then clearly one of the objectives has not been met. The Government was too ambitious in claiming what could be achieved in this election. It is regrettable, but no huge surprise, that in areas where the fighting has been most intense, the turnout has been lowest.' Military insiders questioned the wisdom of launching Panther's Claw a few weeks ahead of the elections, with little time for 'liberated' people to gain confidence in their security.

One senior former Army commander told the Daily Mail: 'I'm sorry to say it makes you wonder if this operation was really worthwhile. …

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