Gordon Brown speech on Afghanistan - Full text

No replies needed - I just wanted to park this somewhere so folks can make a judgment whether Gordo is shining a bright light on how UK is going to move ahead, or just trying to explain why we're there.

Friday 4th September 2009 | 14:01
Gordon Brown speech on Afghanistan - Full text

In the week we commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War, it is impossible not to feel an overwhelming sense of awe and humility at the scale of achievements and the record of service and sacrifice that has defined our British armed forces for generations.

It is a history of extraordinary courage and of dedication often in the face of great adversity. A spirit of service that is recognised in every corner of the land in the great national acts of remembrance on Armistice Day and Armed Forces Day. And as people gather in Wootten Bassett, as they did today, to honour two brave servicemen, a local tribute that has become a national symbol of honour and gratitude to all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Nowhere have I seen more clearly not just that sense of service but also that resilience of spirit than on each of my visits to Afghanistan. As I travelled around Helmand province last weekend, our forces were the first to point out to me the positive signs amid the challenges.

I visited a police station that had been a polling booth and heard stories of Afghans voting for the first time. I witnessed a joint operation room in Lashkar Gar at work - British forces supporting the Afghan army and police in bringing security and the rule of law to the provincial capital; and I heard from Governor Mangal about the real progress being made combating the heroin trade.

But I also saw the scale of the challenges now and in the months ahead. Today has seen another serious incident in the northern province of Kunduz where Taleban hijackers had to be intercepted.

In Helmand in the last four months, over fifty British servicemen have been killed. Sixty-four have been seriously injured. These are not merely statistics. Each one is the loss of a professional dedicated and brave serviceman and the grief of a family whose lives will never be the same again. Each one a hero who deserves the same unending gratitude that we give to the heroes of the First and Second World Wars. And it is right that their service will be recognised by the new Elizabeth Cross announced by Her Majesty the Queen.

There is nothing more heart-breaking in the job I do than writing to the families of those brave servicemen and women, or meeting them, as I did this morning. Or standing by the bedside of a 19-year-old who may never be able to walk again, as I did earlier this week.

Each time I have to ask myself if we are doing the right thing by being in Afghanistan. Each time I have to ask myself if we can justify sending our young men and women to fight for this cause…And my answer has always been yes.

For when the security of our country is at stake we can not walk away. When the stability of this volatile region, spanning the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, has such a profound impact on the security of Britain and the rest of the international community we cannot just do nothing and leave the peoples of Pakistan and Afghanistan to struggle with these global problems on their own.

But while it is right that we play our part - so too must others take their fair share of this burden of responsibility. 42 countries are involved - and all must ask themselves if they are doing enough. For terrorism recognises no borders. All of us benefit from defeating terrorism and greater stability in this region - and all members of our coalition must play our proper part.

The British strategy is part of a wider international strategy and must be understood in that context.

Today I want to take head on the arguments that suggest our strategy in Afghanistan is wrong and to answer those who question whether we should be in Afghanistan at all.

There are of course those who fear that history shows international intervention in Afghanistan is doomed to failure; that our counter-insurgency strategy cannot establish the stability and security we seek; that policies for development -- while admirable in principle -- will make no difference in a country that is one of the poorest and most corrupt in the world; that building a strong Afghan state is not just a long and laborious task but an impossible one.

So I want to answer those who argue that while our motive, to deprive Al Qaeda and terrorists of a base, may be well-intentioned, our strategy is flawed.

Our aim in 2009 is the same as in 2001. We are in Afghanistan as a result of a hard-headed assessment of the terrorist threat facing Britain.

And we are part of a coalition of more than 40 countries embracing not just NATO – with the Danes and Estonians alongside British troops in Helmand - but countries like Australia.

So this remains, above all, an international mission: not just a mission to protect the British people from the threat of terrorism but an international mission involving over 40 countries - with the full support of the UN, the G8, NATO and the EU - because we all face the same threat.

We’ve all seen the reality of this threat: in Bali, Madrid, Mumbai, and of course on the streets of London four years ago.

It is our efforts at home and abroad - the efforts of our allies, the efforts of our armed forces, of the police and security services back in Britain - which have prevented and continue to prevent further terrorist attacks. A totality of effort which in Britain is better resourced and better coordinated than ever before - from increased counter-terrorist policing at home, to stronger checks at our borders, international capacity-building - and the work of our armed forces and other agencies abroad.

It is right that eight years ago Britain with America and other allies - on behalf of the international community as a whole - helped to remove from Afghanistan a regime which enabled Al Qaeda to plot terror around the world, and which culminated in the attacks on 9/11. Attacks not just on America but on the freedoms and values of us all.

But we know that as we removed the Taleban from power and drove Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, so Al Qaeda relocated to the remote mountains of Pakistan.

A new crucible of terrorism has emerged. The Director-General of our security service has said that three quarters of the most serious plots against the UK have had links that reach back into these mountains. At present the threat comes mainly from the Pakistan side, but if the insurgency succeeds in Afghanistan Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups will once again be able to use it as a sanctuary to train, plan and launch attacks on Britain and the rest of the world.

The advice I receive from the security agencies is clear. The sustained pressure on Al Qaeda in Pakistan combined with military action in Afghanistan is having a suppressive effect on Al Qaeda’s ability to operate effectively in the region - but despite these difficulties, the main element of the threat to the UK continues to emanate from Al Qaeda and Pakistan.

Al Qaeda retains some contacts and provides limited support to the Afghan insurgency, principally through the provision of training for foreign fighters and military expertise; continues to view Afghanistan as fundamental in the establishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate; and therefore that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan would be a severe propaganda blow and strategic failure for Al Qaeda.

It is on this basis that I made clear in the Spring – as did President Obama - that preventing terrorism coming to the streets of Britain, America and other countries depends on strengthening the authorities in both Pakistan and Afghanistan to defeat Al Qaeda, and also the Pakistan and Afghan Taleban. For if in either country, the Taleban are allowed to undermine legitimate government, that would open the way once again for Al Qaeda to have greater freedom from which to launch terrorist attacks across the world - and would have longer term implications for the credibility of NATO and the international community – and for the stability of this crucial region and for global stability.

This is why our Strategy, published in April, reflects an integrated approach across both countries. And we are now seeing what has not been obvious before: joint and complementary action on both sides of the border.

In Pakistan in the last few months, the army and security services have taken on the Pakistan Taleban in Swat, Dir and Buner. Last week President Zardari told me his forces are preparing to tackle the threat in Waziristan, because he fully recognises that terrorism poses as serious a threat to Pakistan as to the rest of the world.

We also agreed on the importance of stepping up action against Afghan Taleban leaders based in Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, the Afghan army and police are not yet ready to take on the Taleban by themselves. That is why the international coalition must maintain its military presence.

I believe that most people in Britain accept this - but I know they are concerned about how long international forces - and British forces in particular - will have to stay.

And they ask what success in Afghanistan would look like. The answer is that we will have succeeded when our troops are coming home because the Afghans are doing the job themselves. From that day on, we will be able to focus our efforts on supporting the elected government on security and on development and on human rights. The right strategy is one that completes the job, which is to enable the Afghans to take over from international forces; and to continue the essential work of denying the territory of Afghanistan as a base for terrorists.

As the reviews of General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry will make clear: to reach the point where international forces can return home, we must place a greater emphasis on building up the Afghan army and police; on unity of effort across international and Afghan authorities; and on focusing our resources - both military and civilian - in the areas where they matter most; and thus on securing the population.

It is security that must come first - as in any counter-insurgency campaign. As I heard at the Shura in Lashkar Gah in April, giving Afghans security matters more to them than anything else we or their government can offer. As General McChrystal has said: the measure…will be the number of afghans shielded from violence, not the enemy killed.

That security comes at a price. The last four months have seen over fifty British fatalities. August was the worst month for American fatalities since the campaign began in 2001. But this was undoubtedly in part because both British and American forces went on the offensive - and the main offensives, Operation Panther’s Claw and River Liberty, were successful in bringing security to areas in central and Southern Helmand previously under the control of the Taleban.

There has been much comment on Panther’s Claw. Our commanders, NATO commanders and international leaders all agreed the Taleban should not be allowed free rein in these key population areas.

We do not yet know the full facts of the election - but it is already clear that thousands voted in Central Helmand - rather than the few hundred some have claimed. Turn out was not as high as we might have hoped and the incidents of voter irregularity and intimidation being reported must be thoroughly investigated, including by the Electoral Complaints Commission. But the very fact of the first elections run by Afghans themselves is an important step forward for the people of Afghanistan. And we should remember that the Taleban vowed to destroy this election - and they failed. Despite the fact that part of the country is in conflict an election was held. And 6000 polling stations opened across Afghanistan.

As we look beyond the elections the biggest challenge facing our forces remains that of defeating the Taleban tactic of IEDs - mines and roadside bombs. Having failed in 2006 and 2007 to defeat international forces by conventional means, the Taleban have more than doubled their IED attacks over the past year. International casualties are almost twice as high as this time last year, and three quarters of these are now due to IEDs.

This is a tactic which is inherently hard to defend against but - having spoken at length to our experts and commanders - who have been working closely with the Americans and the coalition in reviewing how best to respond to this evolving threat - I am confident that we are fully focused on dealing with it, and I and Bob Ainsworth are determined that in doing so our forces will have every possible support. It requires not just new equipment but new tactics, better surveillance, specialised troops, and offensive operations - not just one single response but many.

So we have since 2006 spent over £1billion from the reserve on new vehicles for Afghanistan, including 280 mastiffs which offer world-leading protection against IEDs. Between November 2006 and April this year we increased the number of helicopter hours by 84% - and on top of that, as well sharing coalition helicopters, we lease hundreds of hours each month from commercial operators for routine supplies. Though let us be clear: while we are committed to giving our commanders more options, what separates successful counter insurgency from unsuccessful counter insurgency is that it is won on the ground and not in the air.

Already this year we have deployed 200 specialist counter-IED troops. And last week our forces cleared one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the world, the notorious ‘Pharmacy Road’ and ‘Route Sparta’ near Sangin - their great skill and bravery uncovering and defusing 37 IEDs - in the area where seven British soldiers have been killed by IEDs in the last month.

And our offensive operations are also focusing more on countering the IED threat - last month in a dawn raid by British and Afghan forces one of the largest IED-making facilities ever found in Helmand - hidden in a warren of mud buildings - was seized and destroyed along with a massive haul of 50 pressure plate IEDs, fuses, detonators, batteries, chargers and quantities of TNT and ammonium nitrate - a haul we believe was destined for Sangin.

I can report that this brings the number of IEDs found during the current tour by 19 Light Brigade to over 1000. IEDs designed to kill and maim but dismantled by British forces.

And now, as I announced last week, we are sending another 200 specialist forces and new equipment to find and defuse the IEDs and identify and target the networks who lay them.

We are increasing our surveillance to track the Taleban and target their bomb-makers.

To ensure we have the best protected vehicles for road moves, we are buying, on top of the ones already ordered and coming into the theatre, another 20 ridgeback mine-protected patrol vehicles so that more will be going into operation over the next three months.

And the first Merlin helicopters - which I saw being adapted for Afghanistan at RAF Benson in July - will now be flying in Helmand within two months and together with enhancements to other types, by next Spring compared to 2006 we will have doubled the number of helicopters, and increased flying hours by 130%.

Of course the equipment has to be manufactured, delivered and adapted - and the personnel trained to operate it. But it is simply wrong to doubt the speed of our response as we adapt to the new tactics of the Taleban and the scale of our financial commitment either to our soldiers or to this campaign.

Military spending in Afghanistan - the spending that comes from the treasury reserve, over and above the defence budget - is going up far in excess of the increase in troop numbers: it was around £180,000 per year to support each soldier fighting in 2006 but is now over twice that, £390,000 for each soldier.

In recognition of the debt we owe to our forces as well as the need to properly equip them, we are increasing pay for our forces at a faster rate than for other public servants.

In 2006 when I was chancellor we introduced the first flat rate bonus for all who serve in Afghanistan and other operational theatres - paid for out of the treasury reserve - now £2,380, tax free, for a six month operational tour - fairer than income tax relief and offering more money for the average soldier.

Over the last three years medical care both in Afghanistan and back in Britain at Selly Oak hospital and Headley Court and elsewhere, has been radically improved - and I want to thank all the medical teams and their support staff for their dedication and achievements - and last year we doubled the lump sum compensation we give to the most seriously wounded - while recognising that we still need to improve the scheme and have started an urgent review.

So be in no doubt: we are giving our service men and women the additional resources they need to keep themselves safe, to fight and succeed in their operations and to bring security to Afghanistan.

But as we do so, we will also continue to adapt and improve our counter-insurgency strategy for Central Helmand which we set out in April and which underpins this summer’s operations.

A strategy that starts with short-term security - but links to medium term Afghanisation and longer term development.

A strategy based on credible, deliverable and, where right to do so, time-specific objectives - above all for the advance of Afghan autonomy and responsibility - because the more Afghans can take responsibility in the short term, the less our coalition forces will be needed in the long term.

It is a strategy focused on the key population areas of Central Helmand - not just the towns but also the relatively densely populated Helmand River Valley - where the fight against the insurgency must be won.

A strategy radically different from the Russian Strategy in Afghanistan and indeed from all previous foreign interventions in Afghanistan - which lacked the support of the population, which stayed in the cities and ignored the country, and did not seek to empower afghans in maintaining security.

Ours is a four-pronged strategy for accelerating the Afghanisation of the campaign

First we will now partner a growing afghan army presence in central Helmand .

Second we will strengthen the civilian-military partnership, including on policing.

Third, we will support the governor of Helmand by strengthening district government - backed by targeted aid - and a more effective, cleaner government in Kabul.

And fourth we will build on the success of the “wheat not heroin” initiative which I discussed with Governor Mangal - extending it to thousands more farmers.

Back in 2007 I said that over time we would shift the emphasis of the strategy to Afghanisation – and greater responsibility for afghans in all those areas.

So let me take each in turn.

First, the Afghan army.

The numbers of our forces devoted to training and mentoring the Afghans has been increasing, albeit slowly. At national level we have helped train tens of thousands of Afghan troops and thousands more afghan police. Afghan forces are already running security in Kabul, and over time they will take over other districts. In Helmand a British battalion has been mentoring an afghan army brigade - living training and fighting alongside them.

But we must move from simply mentoring the afghan army to what we call ‘partnering’ with them as they take more responsibility for their country’s security.

When we clear an area of Taleban, it is the afghan army and police who must hold that ground and prevent the Taleban from returning. So when I met the new NATO and US commander, General McChrystal, in Afghanistan last week I made clear that to back his new counter-insurgency approach Britain supported faster growth both of the Afghan National army and police.

In the Spring NATO announced that we would support the expansion of the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 by November 2011. That training is already proceeding at the rate of 2,000 new troops per month. And Britain would also support a more ambitious target of 134,000 by an earlier date of November 2010 - which would mean increasing the rate of training to 4,000 per month.

It is clear that to achieve this rapid increase in numbers - and to increase the quality and effectiveness of the new Afghan forces - would require a new approach, shifting from mentoring - where small numbers of mentors work with afghan units - to one of partnering, Where the bulk of our combat forces would be dedicated to working side by side with the afghan army at all levels – where British troops would eat, sleep, live train, plan, and fight together with their Afghan partners, to bring security to the population. This is the best route to success, the most effective way to transfer skills and responsibility to the Afghan security forces, and the best way to gain the trust of the population - and therefore the most effective way to complete our tasks.

In principle every British combat unit could partner a larger afghan counterpart. By November 2010 we envisage up to a third of our troops partnering Afghan forces. That means that our combat units in Helmand could be ready to partner an Afghan army corps of around 10,000 soldiers.

And to help us achieve this goal we will press the new Afghan President to assign greater numbers of afghan army forces to Helmand - where the challenge to legitimate afghan government, and to the security of the people, is greatest.

But this is a military strategy complemented by an even greater emphasis on civilian effort to work with local communities. And the second element of our strategy is strengthening the security of and support for the local population by the strongest possible civilian-military partnership, including on policing.

Our forces were the first in Afghanistan to set up a fully joint military-civilian headquarters, in 2008 - a model which the Americans, having seen it in action, are now looking to roll out across the country. In the 12 months following that we doubled the number of our civilian experts on the ground.

I saw this joint approach in action in the joint operational coordination centre in Lashkar Gah. the police are often on the front line, taking heavier casualties than even the afghan army - which is why over 100 of our armed forces are currently dedicated to mentoring them, in addition to our civilian police mentors. The challenge here is even tougher than the Afghan army, but there are positive signs - including the success of the focused district development programme - though we need to go further in tackling problems of illiteracy, drug abuse and corruption - and logistical problems like ensuring police are paid adequately and on time, without which progress on tackling corruption will be impossible.

Third, at the heart of the future for Afghanistan with its predominantly village and rural population is the strengthening of local and district government - a vital part of any counter-insurgency strategy - and of countering the shadow governance of the Taleban.

A few months ago I attended a Shura - a meeting of district officials and elders - to agree the priorities of the local communities, discussing plans for policing and informal justice but also new roads, clean water, and other basic services. And as our policy of Afghanisation and of localisation advances, our stabilistaion experts will work with Shuras in more villages and districts in Helmand – and right across Afghanistan I believe priority must be given to the training and mentoring of the 34 provincial governors and almost 400 district governors.

Our development department has over the last three years in Helmand funded 60km of new roads, 1800 wells and irrigation for 20 thousand hectares. Construction has now begun on a project to develop the hydropower plant at Gereshk and work will begin this month to expand the airfield at Lashkar Gah, and construction will soon begin on a new road linking the two towns.

And I can say today that we are ready to fund and partner the first Afghan district stabilisation teams to be sent down to Helmand – Afghan officials working alongside our military-civilian stabilization teams - not only reinforcing the hard-won gains of our forces during this most difficult of summers but advancing Afghan responsibility for their own affairs.

And to ensure this effort has the strongest possible support, I am announcing today that we will provide an extra £20 million for stabilisation and security in Helmand – including police training and basic justice – increasing by around 50 per cent what we have provided over the last year.

The fourth part of our strategy is moving the economy of Central Helmand over time from heroin to wheat and to diversify even further. Attacking the heroin trade, while a worthy objective, is not, of course, the fundamental reason why we are in Afghanistan. The fundamental reason is to ensure Al Qaeda cannot again use this region as a base to train and plan terrorist attacks across the world. But there are links between the drugs networks and the insurgency and terrorists; and the drugs networks are one of the most powerful forces standing against the kind of legitimate afghan control which over time could take over the job of dealing with terrorism and the insurgency.

This is why NATO has this year mounted more than 80 operations across Afghanistan, precisely targeting the links between the drugs networks and the insurgents.

But we also know that this strategy will work best when we provide an alternative livelihood for the farmers. And I believe that the key to the reduction in heroin in Helmand by 37 per cent - announced by the UN earlier this week - was Governor Mangal’s ‘food zone’ programme. With the support of the British military and civilian experts, wheat seed was delivered to 32,000 afghan farmers - combining an alternative to poppy with protection from Taleban intimidation in a secured area of Central Helmand. The independent study by Cranfield University confirms that the results inside the food zone are better than outside. We will help Governor Mangal to expand this programme next year - and also help set up agricultural training college. Over time we want to see Central Helmand restored to its former position as the 'breadbasket' of Afghanistan.

As we look beyond the elections, there are changes we want to encourage with our coalition allies at a national level. Clearly the priority is for the new government of Afghanistan to regain the trust and support of its people. This means action against corruption - but also reaching out including to other candidates in the election. And as in every other comparable conflict in history, lasting peace and stability will involve all sides reaching out and engaging in dialogue. This process must be led by the Afghans themselves and as President Obama has said: “there is an uncompromising core of the Taleban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who’ve taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course.”

Our military efforts are essential to this process of reconciliation and reintegration of former fighters - because it must take place from a position of strength: the insurgents must come to believe they will not win, but also all those that can be reconciled must see an alternative way forward founded on the renunciation of violence; acceptance of the democratic process, and the severing of any links with terrorists.

Political progress must then be backed by a far stronger economy. In a country where over half of afghans live below the poverty line and 40 per cent remain unemployed - around three quarters of which are men under the age of 35 - poverty and lack of opportunity is a problem that must be addressed.

This is why we are committing £36 million over the next four years to a national afghan programme for employment which will create 20 thousand permanent jobs and boost incomes for 200 thousand Afghans.

As well as increasing our civilian assistance to Helmand to back the work of our forces there, the Department for International Development will also continue to work at a national level on longer term objectives - continuing to support, as we have since 2002, improvements to health and access to education - often forgotten at times like these.

It is a truly remarkable achievement that thanks to the help of the international community basic healthcare now covers more than four-fifths of the afghan people. 40 thousand more afghan children will see their fifth birthdays this year compared to 2002.

And we should remember that when the Taleban ran the country, only a million children were in school, all boys. Today there are 6.6 million - with more than 2 million girls.

With the help of British development funding, 10,000 new teachers were recruited from 2007 to 2008, with more expected in 2009. This is an investment in the future of Afghanistan, in its stability and its resilience against extremism - and therefore in our security.

Our work on education in Afghanistan - together with the increasing focus on education in Pakistan - brings me to my final point today.

I have described the courageous and skilful work of our forces, rightly the focus of so much attention and concern; and, behind that work, our coordinated, military-civilian counter-insurgency strategy, aimed with our coalition allies at securing the population and building up the afghan authorities to a point where they can defeat the insurgency and the terrorists themselves, and our forces can return home.

I have set out today the challenges facing us as we put this strategy into effect, the work we are doing to improve it, and the broader national and regional context.

But returning from Afghanistan I also reflected that while our objective is to advance justice, tolerance, and opportunity -underpinned by security - that of our enemies is an ideology of violence, intolerance and resistance to modernity, as alien to Islam as it is to the west.

And so, as in the Cold War - achieving our objective depends not just on armies and treaties.

It depends on winning hearts and minds.

The task of winning hearts and minds in Southern Afghanistan is not primarily ours - it is for the elected afghan government, and the leaders of afghan civic society. But we can and we must support them in this, just as we must support them in security, governance and development.

Encouraging new links with Muslim thinkers and with young people; using all modern means of communication to engage with moderates and all who espouse a peaceful interpretation of Islam; co-operation between institutions of learning; and multi-faith dialogue - showing at every stage that we are not in a struggle against Islam - but against extremists who abuse the name of Islam for their own purposes.

Britain will continue our proud tradition of supporting education, a free media, the exchange of ideas and learning in Afghanistan as in the rest of the world. This is more than soft power, or even smart power: this is about people power – empowering communities to stand up against extremism.

This has been the most difficult of summers.

The situation in Afghanistan is serious - nowhere more so than in Helmand. But it is at times like this when we must strengthen not weaken our resolve. Stand up to those who would threaten our way of life; take heart from the progress we have made since 2001; and take the right action to deal with the changing tactics of the Taleban .

I know we are asking a great deal of our armed forces. I can assure them that the government will continue to give them every support. But just as important, so too will communities throughout the country.

And in return we are setting credible and deliverable objectives for their work - above all for the advance of afghan autonomy and responsibility - because the more afghans can take responsibility in the short term, the less our coalition forces will be needed in the long term. and this must be accompanied by credible deliverable and specific objectives in Pakistan, especially on action against terrorist networks based in their country.


Continuing the enhancement of security for our forces

Expanding the vital work that has discovered and dismantled 1000 IEDs this summer

A radical step-up in the training of afghan forces –

Britain ready to work with allies to train around 10,000 new forces in Helmand alone

Stronger district governors in Helmand and across Afghanistan’s 400 districts –

Local communities empowered to run their own affairs

Backed up by a civilian strategy to provide clean policing and services as well as security

Through our development work, securing for Afghans a greater economic stake in the future of their country.

And pressure on the new government for an anti corruption drive throughout the country

These are aims that are clear and justified – and also realistic and achievable. It remains my judgement that a safer Britain requires a safer Afghanistan and in Afghanistan last week, I was further convinced that, despite the challenges we face, a nation emerging from three decades of violence can be healed and strengthened; and that our country and the whole world can be safer; because together we have the values, the strategy and the resolve to complete our vital task.

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