Prime Minister Gordon Brown will confront critics of his policy on Afghanistan on Friday, saying Britain cannot walk away from the conflict when its own security is at stake.
Brown has been under pressure to justify the mission in Afghanistan after some 40 British soldiers have died there in the last two months, Reuters reports.
He has faced accusations that he has put British soldiers’ lives at risk by not giving them enough helicopters or sufficiently armoured vehicles to survive roadside bombs.
“Each time I ask myself if we are doing the right thing by being in Afghanistan and if we can justify sending our young men and women to fight for this cause, my answer has always been yes,” Brown will say later today in what is billed as a major speech on Afghanistan.
“For when the security of our country is at stake we cannot walk away,” he will say in the speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank in London.
The government said yesterday that two more British soldiers had died in Afghanistan, bringing the total to 212.
Polls show most Britons want the 9000 British troops fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan to come home.
The Taliban are unable to defeat the more than 100 000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan in head-on fighting, but aim to force their withdrawal by weakening Western support for the war by inflicting casualties with roadside and suicide bombs.
Heavy British casualties in Afghanistan could also damage Brown in a national election due by next June which the opposition Conservatives are already on track to win.
“Today I want to take head-on the arguments that suggest our strategy in Afghanistan is wrong and to answer those who question whether we should be in Afghanistan at all,” Brown will say, according to excerpts released by his office.
Brown’s Afghan strategy came under fire from a member of his own party, Eric Joyce, who resigned as a parliamentary aide to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth in protest at Brown’s policies on defence and the Afghan conflict.
Joyce said he did not believe the public would accept for much longer Brown’s argument that British forces needed to be in Afghanistan to stop terror attacks on the streets of Britain.
Joyce called for a timetable for reducing British forces in Afghanistan and urged the government to say clearly that many of its allies were not doing enough.
Brown regularly justifies the British presence in Afghanistan by saying three-quarters of terror plots in Britain originate in the mountain areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Brown will say the government is giving its troops the resources they need. Spending per soldier fighting there had more than doubled since 2006, he will say.
Britain will have succeeded in Afghanistan “when our troops are coming home because the Afghans are doing the job themselves,” he will say.
During a visit to British soldiers in Afghanistan last week, Brown called for accelerated efforts to train Afghan soldiers and police.
Brown sees a long-term strategy of “Afghanisation” as eventually paving the way for British forces to leave the country, a government source said.
Brown is also expected to say how Britain will modify its strategy in the southern province of Helmand in line with the thinking of US Army General Stanley McChrystal, the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, who completed a much-anticipated review this week.
McChrystal has often spoken of the need to change the focus from hunting insurgents to protecting the population. This means pushing troops into more densely populated areas.
Pic: UK troops in Afganistan