» Monday, August 17, 2009


Asked if the Prime Minister felt he was losing the political battle at home regarding public support for the war in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that the Prime Minister believed, as had been set out repeatedly in the past, that the mission in Afghanistan was a dangerous but essential one and it contributed directly to the security of the UK. Our Armed Forces were the best in the world and the Government would continue to do everything necessary to ensure that they were properly supported and equipped on the ground and in the UK.

We published a strategy in April, which explained why we were in Afghanistan, the purpose of the mission, the wider strategy and how that linked with our strategy to tackle terrorism that originated in Pakistan.

Put that the Prime Minister said at the weekend that three quarters of terrorist attacks in Britain originated from the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan but that earlier this year it was said that three quarters of terrorist attacks originated from Pakistan, the PMS said that he didn’t see that there was a lot of difference between the two statements; there was a mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan and it was not necessarily possible to pinpoint exactly where each of these plots originated from. The overall purpose, which had been set out in April, was that we needed to tackle security in that border region, which meant tackling security in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Asked if we knew that three quarters of terrorist attacks in Britain originated from the border region, the PMS said that the Prime Minister’s words were clear; we had information that three quarters of the plots that we were aware of originated in the border region but we would not give any more detail than that.

Asked for the source of that number, the PMS said that he was not going to get into details; we could look into a further briefing if people wanted it.

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Bob Ainsworth’s timetable, the PMS said that Bob Ainsworth said this morning that he was not tying himself to a specific timetable. His point was that one of our objectives in Afghanistan was to train the Afghan Army so they could takeover a greater role in providing security, which would allow the Afghan Government to extend its authority across Afghanistan as a whole. At present we had trained ninety thousand Afghan troops and the objective was for one hundred and thirty thousand by 2011. The more Afghan troops were trained, the greater role they could take in providing security. It was the Prime Minister’s and Bob Ainsworth’s belief that over the next couple of years we could make progress in Afghanistan.

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about some of the policies that President Karzai had introduced for example the law that women would have food withheld from them if they refused to have sex with their husbands, the PMS said that since the NATO Summit there had been a concerted international campaign on that issue. As with any other country, we would continue to lobby both individually, but also with our European and other allies where we felt there were important issues at stake.

Put that our troops were in Afghanistan supporting a regime that had policies not dissimilar to the enemy’s, the PMS said that it was an independent country with a democratically elected government.

Asked if there would be a change in British troop numbers in the foreseeable future, the PMS said that we kept the number of troops in Afghanistan under review. As the Prime Minister said when he gave evidence to the Liaison Committee, there would be a review among NATO allies of the current force levels in Afghanistan after the Afghan elections.

Asked why the Afghan troops appeared to have such a low profile despite the fact there were ninety thousand of them, the PMS said that he did not agree with the premise of the question; the troops were operating across the country.

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that without public support the mission in Afghanistan could not succeed in the way the Government wanted it to, the PMS said that public support was important and it was important that we clearly explained why the Armed Forces were engaged in Afghanistan and how that was tied to our wider strategy for defeating terrorism from the Afghan/Pakistan region. We continued to make that case, including in April when we launched the Afghan/Pakistan strategy.

Asked when the Prime Minister last visited wounded servicemen and women, the PMS said that he didn’t know from memory but would check.

Asked if the Prime Minister would support calls for the recall of Parliament after the Afghan elections this week to update the nation on the Government’s strategy, the PMS said that the Prime Minister kept Parliament updated on the Government’s approach to Afghanistan and the commitment of our Armed Forces on a regular basis. We would not pre-judge what the outcome of the Afghan elections would be.

Asked what more the Prime Minister could do to convince the British public that the mission in Afghanistan was worthwhile, the PMS said that we continued to make the case, as we had consistently, that given the history of Al-Qaeda and other groups using Afghanistan as a base from which to launch terrorist operations, it was important that there was security in those areas to prevent those groups from engaging in such activity.

Asked if the Prime Minister felt the Government had the support of the public, the PMS said that we continued to make our case but we would not start commenting on opinion polls. It was a dangerous mission and we felt the sense of loss for those members of the Armed Forces who were killed or injured. This was an important mission as Bob Ainsworth had been setting out in exhaustive detail over the weekend.

Asked if the Prime Minister was happy that there was enough support for injured members of the Armed Forces, the PMS said that we continued to support the Armed Forces, as we set out over the weekend. Today’s opening of a recovery centre in conjunction with the Help for Heroes charity was another example of the kind of support that we gave to the soldiers who were injured in Afghanistan.

Asked why the Prime Minister was not visiting the recovery centre in Edinburgh, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was in his constituency and that Kevan Jones would be representing the Government at the opening of the new recovery centre. The Prime Minister was keenly aware of the work that was ongoing to support wounded troops coming back from Afghanistan.

Asked if the Government was confident that the figures of injured servicemen and women were accurate, the PMS said that that question was best directed to the Ministry of Defence.

Asked if the Prime Minister felt that the Government had clearly explained our engagement in Afghanistan, the PMS said that we consistently explained the reasons for our engagement in Afghanistan and had kept both Parliament and the public informed as to the strategy and how we hoped to accomplish our objectives.

Asked if there was a case for getting more military voices on the ground to explain the case directly to the British public just as the Chief Medical Officer might speak about issues on behalf of the Government, the PMS said that there were a number of military spokesmen in Helmand who regularly gave interviews to news outlets, as did senior commanders in the UK.

Asked if these spokesmen could do a more effective job, the PMS said that we would continue to make the case with Ministers and so too would the Armed Forces with spokesmen on the ground and senior commanders.

Asked if the Prime Minister accepted that part of the problem was that there had been a change of emphasis in the mission from opium and education to security, the PMS said that the purpose of the mission was set out in the strategy that the Government published in April, which was to provide security in Helmand and elsewhere. The objective of providing security was to enable the Afghan Government to extend its authority across the whole of the country, and part of that was tackling the problem of opium production, which had a direct impact on the UK because of the percentage of heroin that originated in Afghanistan, and also funded the insurgency. Education was an important part of the development process.

original source.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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