LONDON (AP) – Foreign Secretary David Miliband defended Britain’s role in Afghanistan on Saturday after fighting claimed eight soldiers’ lives in 24 hours.
The deaths pushed Britain’s overall toll in Afghanistan to 184, five more than the total British deaths in the Iraq war. Britain’s influential media placed the news on the front pages, inevitably increasing pressure on the government both to explain the and to say whether it is giving the military the support it needs to fight the war.
Miliband told the BBC that Britain would not be safe until it had built security in Afghanistan. He said it is essential to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming an “incubator for terrorism” that serves as a launching pad for attacks on the West.
“This is about the future of Britain because we know that the badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, that border area, have been used to launch terrible attacks, not just on the United States, but on Britain as well.
“We know that until we can ensure there is a modicum of stability and security provided by Afghan forces for their own people, we are not going to be able to be secure in our own country,” he said.
The deaths have sparked renewed discussions in Britain’s media about the purpose of the mission, and whether the nation’s military has lost its way in efforts to subdue the rugged land that has harbored Osama bin Laden. Britain moved into Afghanistan with the United States shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as part of a coalition hoping to root out terrorism and build a stable government able to upstage the Taliban.
Britain’s 8,000 troops are fighting in southern Helmand province together with thousands of U.S. Marines in a major offensive. It is intended to disrupt Taliban insurgents and cut their supply lines to Pakistan before elections planned for next month.
The U.S. Marines have suffered only one combat death since the operation began July 2.
Much of the focus has centered on whether the British troops have the proper equipment to defend themselves, particularly whether they have enough helicopters and the effectiveness of Viking armored vehicles.
David Cameron, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, said the forces operating in Afghanistan need more helicopters and that it is a “scandal” that the forces lack such equipment. And Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg shook the cross-party consensus on the mission in an opinion piece Friday in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. Clegg said he now wondered 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 wrote.