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Ainsworth - `Sacrifice in Afghanistan at forefront of my mind`



www.mod.uk    Department of defence UK
2009-11-11

As the Armed Forces today remember their colleagues who have died in conflicts since the First World War, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth reiterates why British forces are fighting in Afghanistan.


Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth speaks with British ISAF troops at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan
[Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2009]

Mr Ainsworth said:

"Today as we commemorate military sacrifice, my thoughts will be with our forces on the front line in Afghanistan.

"The commitment of these courageous men and women is humbling. The return yesterday of six more of the fallen is a stark reminder of the sacrifice being made.

"I understand the strength of public feeling when confronted with the reality of the fighting. Progress has come at a heavy human cost. People rightly ask - is it worth it? Why are we there and can we succeed?

"The NATO mission in Afghanistan is a conflict of necessity, not of choice. It must be fought to safeguard our national security.

"Sixty-seven British citizens died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001 when over 3,000 people lost their lives. These attacks were planned in Afghanistan - a safe haven where Al Qaeda was able to plan and direct major terrorist operations across the world.

"We are in Afghanistan now to stop that happening again. We are part of a coalition of over 40 nations, led by NATO, who have made this same judgement.

"Some argue that Al Qaeda are now located in the borderlands of Pakistan, so there is no point staying in Afghanistan. But if we were to abandon Afghanistan, who truly believes they would not take root there yet again? Who truly thinks this would make Britain safer? We would just have to do it all over again.


Guardsmen fire on suspected enemy positions as part of a compound clearance operation
[Picture: Corporal Dan Bardsley RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2009]

"Those who believe we can somehow insulate ourselves, that we can retreat behind the walls of some fictitious `fortress Britain`, are wrong. It would only be a matter of time before we felt the consequences of withdrawal. Afghanistan is a distant country, but the brave men and women of our forces are protecting us from terrorist attacks just as much as the police and intelligence services do here in the UK.

"Some argue that Britain should pull out of the coalition and leave it to the Americans. No country can protect themselves on their own - not even America. This is our fight too. Imagine the damage our unilateral withdrawal would do to the NATO alliance that has been the bedrock of our defence for 60 years?

"Some argue that our presence in Afghanistan gives a boost to violent extremism around the world, but the greatest boost to their vicious ideology would be for us to retreat now. Only by confronting this new, evolved, globalised form of violent extremism can we diminish its appeal.

"Some argue that Afghanistan is not the only nation where there is a risk of terrorism finding a place to take root. This is true. Our commitment to Afghanistan does not mean that we are failing to work with other nations to counter terrorism elsewhere. But the majority of the terror plots against the UK have connections to the border and mountain areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we must focus where the threat is greatest.

"Pakistan is taking decisive action to tackle the Taliban and the terrorists in its borderlands. Unlike Pakistan, Afghanistan is simply not able, after 30 years of war, to deny sanctuary to violent extremists itself without the assistance of international military forces.


A Royal Marine from X-Ray Company, 45 Commando, guards an enemy munitions cache
[Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2009]

"So our strategic objective is an Afghanistan in which violent extremists can find no sanctuary.

"The goal is for Afghanistan to be responsible for its own security without the need for international troops.

"Our role now is to provide the security, the support, the time and the space for this to be achieved.

"Who believes at this stage that the Afghan Government could stand on its own in the face of the Taliban-led insurgency? Who believes that violent extremism in Afghanistan would just wither away if NATO were to withdraw?

"I do not deny progress can be painful and hard won. It will cost more lives before we are finished and some of them will be British lives. We can`t put a definitive timeframe on this, but as Afghan forces take more responsibility for the struggle, so Britain`s military commitment will be reduced.

"This will not happen overnight. Even when we get to the point when NATO troops can step back from the front line, we will have to continue to support Afghanistan facing down violent extremism for the foreseeable future.

"We need to hold our nerve. If we do not, we hand a victory to those who would like nothing better than to claim to have beaten us. What message would that send to terrorists across the globe?

"It is not good enough to give general support to armed forces; we need to support what they are doing as well.

"Our forces` sacrifice in Afghanistan will be at the forefront of my mind throughout today and during the hard battles that undoubtedly lie ahead. They have not died in vain and we owe it to them not to turn our back on the mission."

2009-11-11








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