Monday, November 9, 2009

Public 'must back Afghan cause'

An Army officer has said it is not enough for the public to support UK troops in Afghanistan - they must also back the "cause" they are fighting for.

Capt Andrew Tiernan told the BBC that "the soldiers support the cause" and discussion in Britain of abandoning the mission did not help them.

He said he had chosen to speak out because he was "frustrated with the negative reporting" of the conflict.

Capt Tiernan also said Afghan policemen had saved the lives of his men.

Last week, five British soldiers were shot dead by a police recruit, but despite this Capt Tiernan said it would be "foolish" not to work closely with local forces.

"If we were just there on our own we would be far less effective," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"For instance, the Afghan national policemen who I work with have saved the lives of my men by finding improvised explosive devices in the ground.

"The Afghan desert to me looks pretty similar, but to the policemen that are from those areas a little bit of disturbed earth is telling to them."

'Ink spot approach'

The officer, from the Grenadier Guards, is about to embark on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.

He said that while "the tragic events of last week need to be reported... lots of the talk subsequently about a wholesale pullout from Afghanistan does not support the soldiers who are out there risking their lives".

"Often we hear people say, 'Yes, we support the soldiers, but we don't support the cause,'" he said.

"Well, the soldiers support the cause, so if you really want to support the soldiers then we too as a public should support the cause in Afghanistan."

A BBC poll on Sunday found that 64% of Britons believe the war is "unwinnable", up from 58% in July.

The head of the armed forces Sir Jock Stirrup also told the BBC that public was not convinced that victory was "doable".

But Capt Tiernan said British troops were making progress, and in his case, his company was creating a "gated community" in one part of Helmand province to protect local people from insurgents.

"A classic counter-insurgency campaign will talk about the 'ink spot approach'. That means that you secure an area.. and because you then demonstrate to the population how life is better... that attracts people into that area and the ink spot can spread.

"So in my area we opened up a school two weeks ago which is a huge thing for local people."

Capt Tiernan said his company was implementing the strategy of "embedded partnering" with Afghan forces as proposed in a directive by US commander Gen Stanley McChrystal.

As a result, British soldiers were "completely working hand-in-hand" with local troops and police, "living with them, planning with them, operating with them".

"His directive is one of those rare documents that is so strikingly correct that everyone who reads it from the lowest ground commander to the most senior military commander understands it worth," Capt Tiernan added.

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