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Baroness Neville-Jones sets out the challenges facing British forces in Afghanistan

Neville_jones Baroness Neville-Jones of Hutton Roof made her maiden speech in the Lords yesterday.  Like Baroness Warsi, she focused on the situation in Afghanistan:

"Public discussion of the British commitment has tended to focus on three issues: whether we should be in Afghanistan at all; whether our forces have been properly equipped to carry out the mission entrusted to them; and whether they are succeeding. In this short intervention, I am not going to deal in detail with the second of these issues. Suffice it to say just two things. The recent decision announced by the Government to supply, off the shelf, a more rugged vehicle to our troops is sensible, though not before time, and we must hope that those vehicles will be delivered soon. The better armour of a Mastiff, compared with a Land Rover, will help to save lives. No Government are entitled to expose our serving men and women to unnecessary risk. Furthermore, when our service men and women are injured, they should be able to expect the best medical treatment that we, a technologically advanced and wealthy country, are able to provide.

During our visit, we were shown the medical facilities at Camp Bastion, which are also available to the local population. They are impressive, as is the commitment of the medical staff. Injured personnel, of course, need to reach those facilities quickly from the field and shortage of helicopters can be a problem. Moreover, when servicepeople return to the UK for further medical treatment, we need to ensure that not just the medicine but also their hospital environment are conducive to speedy recovery.

As to whether the UK should be in Afghanistan, although our presence there has not been attended by anything like the controversy surrounding our presence in Iraq, it has not been free from it.

Opponents often argue that no outside power has ever succeeded in Afghanistan and that NATO will not, either. That is fatalistic, pessimistic and false. The alliance is no invader. It is there at the invitation of the Afghan Government to assist in creating conditions of greater freedom, security and prosperity in that country. That involves combating terrorism, which threatens the Afghan people, this country and our allies. For these reasons, this side of the House supported and continues to support the intervention in Afghanistan.

Having committed ourselves, the UK must now succeed. The consequences of failure in Afghanistan, in the wider region and for the alliance itself are far too serious for it to be anything other than a first-order priority to give ourselves the best chances of success. I do not think that we have done that yet. Indeed, there is a widespread impression outside Afghanistan that the NATO military campaign is failing, which is mistaken, although it is possibly a result of the media sophistication of the Taliban. Our commanders are the first to warn of the dangers and they are not complacent. It is, however, a mark of their relative success that the Taliban has had to extend its tactics from fighting our troops to intimidating the civilian population with suicide bombing.

The real problem lies in what follows—or fails to follow—a successful NATO military operation. If the Afghan armed forces and the local police are unable to provide a reasonable level of security and the Taliban can slip back in, as already happens, economic reconstruction and restoration of normal daily life cannot take place. That has potentially enormous costs in the battle for hearts and minds and the whole point of an operation can be lost. Training a sufficient number of Afghan soldiers to hold territory taken and raising local police standards are therefore key priorities."

More from Hansard here.


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