Clegg: Lives ‘thrown away’ in Afghanistan

Author: By Matt Dickinson, Press Association

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said British soldiers were not being given
the proper equipment and their lives were “being thrown away because our
politicians won’t get their act together”.

His comments come after the deaths of seven British soldiers in the past seven
days and amid signs of disquiet within Whitehall at the growing public
dismay over the lengthening casualty list.

Mr Clegg said: “As leader of the Liberal Democrats, I have been keen to
maintain the cross-party consensus on Afghanistan that formed after
September 11, and has not faltered since.

“But recent events have led me to question, for the first time, whether we’re
going about things in the right way.

“I am concerned that we are simply not giving our troops the means to do their
difficult job. We must not will the ends without being prepared to will the
means.”

He said two of the recent British fatalities – including Lt Col Rupert
Thorneloe, the highest ranking British officer to be killed since the
Falklands War – were killed while travelling in a vehicle “unable to
withstand a roadside bomb”.

“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,” the Lib
Dem leader said.

A total of 176 British servicemen and women have died in Afghanistan since the
start of operations in 2001. There are about 8,300 British troops based in
the country.

Mr Clegg questioned the level of UK troop deployment, saying British forces
have been “relegated to the background” in Helmand after the US moved its
own troops into the area.

He said: “I can only imagine how demoralising it must be for our troops to
feel they have to be bailed out by Uncle Sam.”

He added that a co-ordinated political strategy was needed to run alongside
the military campaign.

“Britain’s lukewarm support for European co-operation in defence and security
planning has contributed to the fragmented nature of operations,” Mr Clegg
said.

“Our soldiers’ lives are being put at risk because our politicians won’t get
their act together.

“To help them, we need a single individual or institution with a strong
mandate, co-ordinating the actions of all international players.”

He also rooting out corruption in Afghanistan needed to be given a higher
priority, saying it was holding back progress in the country.

Mr Clegg said: “If the Taliban are to be defeated, the Afghan people need to
learn to trust state institutions – a huge challenge in a country that never
had effective central government.”

He concluded: “The future of Afghanistan is of huge importance, but it will
never be secured with troop and equipment shortages, an un-co-ordinated
political strategy and a blind eye turned to corruption.

“We must think again – not about pulling out, but about doing things
differently. There are many options: the only one I would rule out is
following the current course. It is a halfway house that lets our troops
down by asking them to do the impossible.”

Yesterday Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth warned that success in Afghanistan
would take “courage and patience”, also predicting that more British lives
would be lost in the fighting ahead.

But he insisted that progress was being made and that it remained essential to
ensure al Qaida was denied a renewed foothold in the country from which to
launch fresh terror attacks against Britain and the West.

“Isolating the Taliban and holding the initiative in Helmand is an
imperative,” he said in the keynote speech. “This is hard fighting and, as
we have seen, the risks are considerable. But we are making progress.

“Let us be under no illusion. The situation in Afghanistan is serious – and
not yet decided. The way forward is hard and dangerous. More lives will be
lost and our resolve will be tested.

“If we are to succeed we will need both the courage and the patience to see it
through. There is no defined end date – only an end state.”

Mr Clegg said that British troops were being put into the “worst of all
worlds” through a combination of a lack of proper equipment and the lack of
an effective strategy.

“What makes me angry is that we have put brave British servicemen and
servicewomen in harm’s way, asked them to do a job, but haven’t provided
them with sufficient troop numbers. the right kind of equipment, and they
are fighting this conflict in a political vacuum,” he told the BBC Radio 4
Today programme.

“There is no strategy in Afghanistan to co-ordinate the aid, the
reconstruction, and the military efforts.

“You can’t fight a war by muddle. You’ve got to either do it properly or not
do it at all.”

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