Frank Field MP
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A Second Front

28
Jul
That Grandmother's grieving cry of anguish three weeks ago as the body of her grandson passed her by in Wootton Bassett, was more than a cry of a family's anguish at losing a young member. It signalled what will be a decisive change in public opinion (link).

In early July the Sunday Times carried a poll showing that one in five voters wanted troops out. Today's Independent reports that that figure has risen to one in two of the electorate wishing to see British troops leave Afghanistan.

Equally decisive for the Government trying to impose some politics onto this war is the finding that six out of ten voters do not wish to see any increase in troop numbers. Or, come to that, more equipment.

These findings come as the Government is at last stirring itself. Yesterday the Foreign Secretary and the International Development Secretary both began to hint that talking with the so-called "sensible" Taliban should be part of the war strategy.

But that strategy would most likely work if there was a sustained period where the Taliban realised they couldn't win against Western forces. That does not now look like a likely option.

Negotiations therefore begin from a position of weakness. It will not take the Taliban long for their intelligence to relay back the results of polls in this country and it is this country that is important as a dressed up NATO campaign is largely being fought by the British and the Americans.

We are in Helmand Province where most of the war is taking place. NATO troops are dispersed elsewhere in areas where little fighting is reported. By expressing its unwillingness to send more troops now the Government is committing the country to a long war of attrition in Afghanistan - or an abrupt withdrawal.

The strategy has changed significantly over the last couple of months. From a policy of clearing the Taliban and moving on - with the Taliban quickly moving back once troops had departed - the Government is now committed to a clear and hold policy.

The aim is for, once the Taliban have been cleared, a series of development initiatives to take place in the "secure areas". But development takes time. If the Government is serious on this front, which I am sure is, it will have to commit our troops to remain in Afghanistan way beyond the election.

And here the politics at home kicks in. Today, four more bodies will be brought home and the now familiar news coverage will rightly gain high profile for the rest of the day. It is those coffins moving slowly through Wootton Bassett which is now driving public opinion on a war which increasingly the electorate believe we cannot win.

The Government is fighting on two fronts - the Taliban in Afghanistan and now public opinion at home. With the cost in lives of holding the first line, it is difficult to see how a Government will be able to defend a second line against voters in this country.
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