MPs debate the War in Afghanistan

It sometimes seems that the House of Commons has been utterly sidelined by the all powerful media.

Armed Forces personnel must wonder what the hell all those MPs get up to most of the time.

Last week, there was a backbenchers debate on Afghanistan. The only coverage in the main media outlets that I found was a short piece by Mathew Parris (ex MP) which sits behind The Times' oh-so-very-succesful 'Pay as you Read' web site .

Seems a shame, because there are now a few MPs in the House who have deployed on Ops and have a reasonable grasp of reality (for some versions of)

This bit is from Colonel Bob Stewart MP late CHESHIRES:

To read more, follow the LINKY:

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extract from Hansard

9 Sep 2010 : Column 494

Backbench Business [3rd Allotted Day]

UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for introducing a motion that is so important to our nation. I assure the House that the armed forces will be watching our debate extremely carefully. Some of what is said will be very important, and, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray), some of it may have an effect on morale.

Last week I had the sad duty and honour of attending the funeral of Lieutenant John Sanderson, a young officer in the battalion that I had the privilege to command. Twelve members of my old battalion have died on the tour that it is currently undertaking, and there is approximately a month to go. Seventy more have been injured.

Roughly 300 people in a battalion go out and seek to engage the enemy. Members can imagine the percentage of casualties that is expected in my old battalion-the 1st Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, once known as The Cheshire Regiment-and how awful that is for their families. There have been 334 deaths in Afghanistan, and probably six times as many people have been injured.

After John's funeral I spoke to many officers, not only officers from my regiment but, for example, six Royal Marines. When I asked them what they really felt about the war, the first thing that they said to me was "Make our sacrifice worth it. Do not let us suffer as we have, and then walk away and leave it"-rather, in a way, as we left Basra.

[snip intervention]

The officers and soldiers to whom I talked were firm that they do not want us not to support them; I shall return to that point. They also do not like the idea of a timeline; they are not very happy about that. Also, of course, they want to be given the resources to be able to do the job we have set them.

Interestingly, the troops also questioned some of the strategic and tactical decisions that their superiors had passed on to them. I wondered what they meant, and I looked back into that. When we went in in 2002, we went in "light", as we call it: we went in with air power and special forces. We then thought we had done the job and left it to President Karzai. In 2003, we realised that things had gone wrong and we started going back in, and by 2006 John Reid was making hopeful statements in the House. He was acting on military advice in saying that he hoped that the 4,000-odd people being put into Helmand would not have to fire a shot in anger.

9 Sep 2010 : Column 496

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Following on from the previous intervention, does my hon. Friend agree that although our troops do not want Members of Parliament to doubt ultimate victory or how to control the Taliban, we should question whether the tactics are always right, because there might be other ways of doing things? President Reagan bombed Libya, for instance, which shows that we do not necessarily have to have troops on the ground. Do the troops accept that point?

Bob Stewart: Most certainly they do, and I accept that it is our job to question everything. The problem is that we have made some fundamental mistakes. I am not blaming anyone, but we made mistakes in 2006 when we dissipated our forces so they were in platoon houses and were not within the envelope. That meant that they could not have protection from artillery, and we had to use air power instead. The air power protecting them knocked out houses around them and killed local people, turning the people against our forces. In 2007 and 2008 we had gone back to counter-insurgency tactics-taking, holding, building-and our gallant troops went in to take, but they could not hold. They had to withdraw. Perhaps Members remember those pictures of helicopters flying with men strapped aboard to try to bring troops back. We could not hold the ground. Also, of course, our enemy came in and put devices on the ground that caused real problems, and they continue to do so to this day.

We now have a situation in which there is an increase in the number of soldiers on the ground, principally from the United States, and the principles of counter-insurgency are, in fact, beginning to work. They are protecting the people, and the key is whether the Afghan people feel protected and safe and can live a decent life.

[snip intervention]

We all know that we have a real problem in Afghanistan. We have a military aim, which is probably relatively simple: to make sure that Afghanistan never threatens us again. We also have a political aim, which is, fundamentally, that we want Afghanistan to have a decent lifestyle and to take its part in the international community, and also that we do not want to allow groups such as the Taliban to return to the country, and thereby threaten us. The job our troops are doing is very difficult; I am clear about that.

I want to conclude by talking briefly about what we can do. The fact of the matter is our soldiers require our support. I accept the point that they have a problem with understanding the nuances of people saying, "We support our troops, but we don't support the war." When we talk to them, they say, "Come off it, we're out here doing a mission; support us! Don't just say, 'We support you.' We don't quite get that." One of them said to me, "Are you smoking dope?" [Interruption.] I was not, actually; I never have smoked dope, and if I had, I would have been chucked out of the Army. Another one said to me about the strategic situation and the tactical decisions made, "Isn't it strange, Bob, that in this country we penalise our soldiers for losing a rifle more than we penalise our generals for losing a war?" We have not made some decisions very well thus far.

There is now great optimism that we will be able to reach the endgame, and get to a situation where our troops can come home and feel that John Sanderson and 333 other young men-and one woman, I think-have given their lives for something worth while. That is terribly important. I pay great tribute to what our armed forces are doing, of course, and I want them all to come home soon-as soon as possible, and before 2014 if that is achievable-but the only way they can come home quickly is if we get it right, give them what they require and understand that we are fighting a war. Let us imagine what would have happened if there had been reductions in the defence budget when we were at war in 1940. I know that our country has a big economic problem, but we have to make sure that those people who are running huge risks on our behalf are given everything they require and our support.

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So....where was YOUR MP then ?



Book Reviewer
So....where was YOUR MP then ?

Hmmmm.....need to scroll down a bit to find the Afghan bit...past all the crud about Standards Committe..

Dr Murrison: That is a point that my hon. Friend has made before and he makes his views known in a very powerful way. I am sure that there is much truth in what he has to say and of course the blame must lie with the previous Administration and how they managed the defence budget in this country.

The charity Combat Stress received 1,257 new referrals in 2009, an increase in two thirds since 2004. It is important to put that in the context of the generally positive mental and physical legacy left by service in the armed forces. I would strongly avoid the hysterical language used by some elements of the media, and I suggest that saying that we face a "mental health time-bomb" is unfair and not supported by the evidence. However, we have a significant problem and since it has been caused directly by military service we have an obligation under any interpretation of the military covenant to go the extra mile in sorting it out.

The Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary hosted a mental health summit in the Commons in June last year and have ordered a review that I lead into how we can do more to promote the health of the service community. It is clear that we must do far more to be proactive in discovering in servicemen and women the mental health problems that they might be suffering-not just post traumatic stress disorder, I hasten to add. We must offer the means for casualties to accept help in a way that is amenable to them.
I suspect my MP was nowhere near the Chamber......MUCH more important discussions of a Ugandan nature occupying its tiny mind....


Book Reviewer
" The Charity Combat Stress" Says it all, the fact that the care of our wounded,and mentally scarred people is in the hands of charity is a national disgrace, lets get it straight,most members of Parliament and the government, and it don't matter which one ,don't give a f@ck about the forces serving or disabled ex-serving


Book Reviewer
When you've taken part in the London 10K for Combat Stress three years running and run two marathons for them, I may be prepared to listen to what you have to say.

Having just spent the day walking around talking to our wounded, whilst they are being cared for by military AND civilian personnel I can assure you that they are NOT in the hands of a charity....and you have no idea what you're talking about. Combat Stress deals exclusively with ex Serving.

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