Saturday, December 5, 2009
By Tom Newton Dunn
DAVID Cameron insisted last night he DOES have the mettle to be a wartime PM - and vowed to Sun readers he would NEVER cut and run from Afghanistan.
In an exclusive interview from the front line, the Tory leader spoke of his deep respect for our armed forces.
And he said they should stay until the Taliban are beaten.
He shot down wobblers who want to pull out of the conflict - as he urged the nation to repay its hero troops by showing the same steely resolve they do.
He declared: "I'm not interested in cutting and running, or setting artificial timetables for departure. I'm interested in helping the troops succeed, so they can home with their heads held high."
Mr Cameron insisted "It IS possible to defeat the Taliban. We have had great success in taking out Taliban leaders and British forces have proved how brave and competent they are at doing that.
"We have a great opportunity to have a last go at getting this right. We must stay and do that."
He stopped short of directly criticising US President Barack Obama for setting a date for an American pull-out to begin - July 2011.
But he insisted: "Although nobody wants to be in Afghanistan for a minute longer than we ought to be, a withdrawal must only be after we are successful."
And in a veiled attack on Gordon Brown for setting a controversial deadline for "progress", he added: "I hope it will be possible to hand some districts over to Afghan control. But we must be cautious about naming dates.
"We must not raise false hopes for our troops and their families, or send out false messages to those who mean us harm."
Mr Cameron spoke to the forces favourite newspaper as he toured an outpost that has seen some of the the most bitter fighting of the war recently, alongside shadow defence secretary Liam Fox.
A grim total of 24 soldiers based at Forward Operating Base Shawqat in the hot-spot of Nad-e-Ali have been killed in the last nine months.
Five of them - including Regimental Sergeant Major Darren Chant of the Grenadier Guards - died last month when a crazed Afghan cop opened fire. Grenadiers in the area still fight the Taliban daily.
Back at the field hospital at logistics base Camp Bastion, the Tory chief met wounded troops.
Mr Cameron described how he knew he was ready to take the ultimate decision and send young men and women to war.
He revealed: "Before I stood for leader of the Conservative Party, I asked myself, could I take those very tough decisions? The hardest of all is sending forces to war.
"I talked it through with my wife Sam as well. I was prepared then, and I am prepared now. I would never do it lightly and I would always make sure it was in Britain's best interests."
He went on: "Our military is an incredibly important national asset. We should not abuse them, or overstretch them. But we should not be afraid of using them when it's in the country's interest to do so."
In an impromptu speech to 100 officers and soldiers in Task Force Helmand's HQ at Lashkar Gah, he said: "I want to say a really heartfelt thank you to you on behalf of the British people for your incredible bravery and heroism out here.
"You really have made all of us so proud to be British."
Lance Bombardier Lachlan Quinn, 25, quizzed Mr Cameron on his forces policies. He said: "He's got good ideas and seems a nice guy. It's good of him to come out - but now we want him to deliver."
Mr Cameron revealed he once contemplated a career in the military.
And he recalled how as a 16-year-old with the cadet force at Eton College he had his first encounter with soldiers, which left a big impression on him. He said: "I met some Welsh Guards while on an exercise on Salisbury Plain. They had just come back from the Falklands and had been through a lot. They were very tough guys - it was a wake-up call."
Unlike some politicians, he finds it easy to relate to soldiers. He said: "The more you talk to them, the more you understand their hopes and fears."
Mr Cameron said today's generation of British warriors is every bit as good as its famous forefathers.
He said: "I've always had huge respect for the military.
"Partly out of a love and fascination for British history. But also because we have a military we can be very proud of, going all the way back to Agincourt.
"They are such a source of national pride - and none more so than this generation today.
"The intensity of what we are asking young people to do is quite incredible. They have seen the fiercest fire fights the British Army has had in 50 years. And some of them were just 18 years old.
"They are every bit like my grandfather's generation, who got out of the landing craft in Normandy, or in Burma, or in Korea in the 1950s.
"The guys in Helmand today are their equal in every way."
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