Tuesday, June 22, 2010

General Parker - 300th fatality must not cloud our judgement

Lieutenant General Sir Nick Parker, Deputy Commander of ISAF and Colonel Commandant of The Rifles, said:

"The death of the 300th British soldier in Afghanistan must not cloud our judgement.

"As the cost of our commitment is marked by this sad milestone, it is important to remember that every fatality in Afghanistan is terrible for family, friends and fellow soldiers; this is just as true for the first as for the 300th of our fallen.

"Nor must we forget those who have suffered life-changing injuries. It is self-evident that, for those intimately connected with these heartbreaking events, there can be little consolation, and at a personal level I very much doubt that the sacrifice of their loved ones can ever be 'worth it'.

"But conflict is tough. There will be casualties, and, if we cannot see beyond the personal grief that surrounds every fatality, we risk making poor judgements. The consequences of this would be even more tragic - and not just for those who pay the ultimate price. The plan for Afghanistan is on track and now is the time to hold our nerve.

"As you think of our men and women serving in Helmand, please remember that they do not want sympathy - they are enormously proud of their collective endeavour. But what they do need and want is the continued support of the public.

"Our commitment to Afghanistan has lasted just under nine years. Success has been hard won and progress can seem slow, but we are at a critical moment and we need steady nerves and clear thinking.

"General Stanley McChrystal's arrival in Afghanistan has brought a new approach and a sense of optimism to the International Security Assistance Force. He has reinvigorated operations by focusing on protecting the population.

"We must respect Afghan sovereignty and hand them back full responsibility for their country as soon as practical. Our plan focuses on undermining the insurgency where it is at its strongest and this is supported by a significant increase in US and NATO troops.

"As the insurgents see the Afghan National Security Forces maturing and taking over from international forces, Afghan-led security will become a credible prospect. But we will not achieve it without continuing sacrifice. For ISAF, this will be a hard summer.

"Security will provide the platform on which to build sustainable success. While we are still challenging the insurgency on the periphery of the populated areas, in Nad 'Ali in central Helmand, British forces are working closely with the Afghan Army and Police.

"There is real evidence of improved security. Community councils have been elected that represent the views of previously disenfranchised people to a dynamic and effective district governor. The bazaar is thriving and the road to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, is secure and enables free movement and trade.

"But this is not a conventional war and improved security will not be decisive. Success must come from a combination of the international community's commitment to long-term aid, building the credibility of the Afghan administration and a coherent political approach that will stop the conflict when conditions are right.

"President Karzai's trip to Washington last month set the conditions for a long-term plan, founded in a strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the US that will be developed this year.

"This, coupled with the vital investment of other international partners including the UK, will underwrite Afghanistan's future. It provides the 'prize' of enduring support to a normal, developing country.

"The credibility of the Afghan administration is also key. The Government's ability to influence events outside Kabul is limited and its bureaucracy is fragile. Our task is not to run roughshod over its emerging capability, but to respect Afghan sovereignty.

"We must accept Afghan leadership and solutions and the international community's approach must be better co-ordinated and aligned. The appointment of Mark Sedwill as NATO's senior civilian representative has helped to integrate the ISAF plan with international community efforts, but this area still demands plenty of attention.

"The most important ingredient of success is an aggressive political strategy that can build on the improving security. It should draw further strength from improvements in governance and development and a sense of the inevitability of progress.

"This is not, conventionally, a soldier's business, but it is something that we all depend on if our efforts are to be exploited effectively. The Prime Minister has said that we are six months into an 18-month military surge; the security element of that strategy is now well set to support the other actors who will play a part in resolving the conflict."

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