Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ainsworth: we failed troops in Afghanistan and Iraq - The Times

Michael Evans, Defence Editor

The Government did not do enough to support British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq at the start of the conflicts, the Defence Secretary has admitted.

Bob Ainsworth said that Service men and women were justified in complaining about a lack of interest in their work from ministers and the wider population.

His comments came as the head of the Army warned that Britain had failed to get on a proper war footing to deal with the military campaign in Afghanistan.

“People were pretty cheesed off with the attitude not only of the Government, but of the British public,” Mr Ainsworth said. “They were out there in Iraq, they were out there in Afghanistan, they were doing hard yards and putting their lives on the line — and nobody back here was nearly as interested as they ought to have been,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

Improvements in how the Armed Forces were supported over the past two years had been “absolutely essential”, he said.

Defence issues had not had sufficient prominence, he said. “We have tended in politics in this country to concentrate on the domestic, on the here and now — the ‘what’s in it for me’.”

In his last public speech as Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt said: “We should be under no illusion, we are at war and if we want to succeed, which we must, we must get on to a war-like footing.” He added: “Not everyone in our nation realises that.”General Dannatt, who retires next month, said: “If that means an uplift of significant capabilities for Afghanistan, then so be it.”

The general, who has fought the Government for more resources in Afghanistan, pressed his case for the campaign to be adequately funded. Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, he said: “Success in Afghanistan is not discretionary. It will top the agenda for the future and we must do whatever we must do to succeed.

“This can be demonstrated by a strengthened and enduring national, political, industrial, cross-Whitehall and departmental commitment to delivering success in Afghanistan. It is very much in our national interest to do this.”

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