Afghan war is bad for security, voters say

Independent poll casts doubt on key justification for Britain's involvement in conflict

The main justification offered by the Government for keeping troops in Afghanistan is rejected by the majority of British people, a new opinion poll for
The Independent shows today. Four out of five of those questioned do not believe that British involvement in the conflict, with its rising toll of casualties, is keeping the streets of Britain safe from terrorist attacks.

The findings come as senior commanders have begun warning that the next few months will see intensifying military action, and that British forces will be expected to play a full part. There is no question of British troops "retreating to safer areas", senior Nato officials stressed.

In direct contradiction of the Government's position, almost half, or 46 per cent, of those surveyed held that the presence of British forces in the US-led war actually increased the threat of attacks in the country by creating anger and resentment among the Muslim population.

The findings of the survey, by GFK NOP and commissioned by Colin Francome, Emeritus Professor at Middlesex University, will intensify the political dilemma facing Gordon Brown. Yesterday was a day of deep emotion with the return of the bodies of six fallen soldiers, but the Prime Minister must now also contend with the risk of mounting anger if the core argument for continuing the deployment of British forces eight years after the overthrow of the Taliban lacks conviction for the public.

The Prime Minister, who has been subjected to personal attacks over misspellings in a letter of condolence written to the mother of a dead soldier, faced rebellion over the direction of the war from within his own party. A former minister, Frank Field, will today seek an early House of Commons debate on Afghanistan. Mr Field who has the backing of 19 Labour MPs, says that the debate should cover the UK's role, the objectives of the intervention and "the time scale over which these goals will be achieved".

Although the Government says it is committed to "staying the course" in Afghanistan, Mr Brown signalled yesterday that plans were being drawn up to hand control over a significant part of Helmand province to Afghan forces from mid-2010. British troops aim to transfer authority "district by district" as the Afghan army and police forces are trained and local government structures put in place. "We think that, by mid-next year, probably two parts of Helmand can be transferred from our responsibility," Mr Brown said.

But in Kabul, Brigadier General Eric Tremblay, a Canadian officer in the International Security Assistance Force, said the south of Afghanistan would remain the focus for the Nato campaign. "No one is pulling out and we continue with our military strategy. In fact towns like Musa Qala are the sort of population centres which we are protecting and where we need security to grow, and British troops will, of course, play a crucial part in that." He said 68 per cent of violent incidents occurred in Helmand and Kandahar and so the region is obviously of key importance.

Separately, a senior American officer who played a key role in the plans drawn up for a military "surge" by General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of Nato forces, said British operations in Helmand would continue. "Forces like the British in Helmand and the Canadians in Kandahar are needed for combat. Getting involved in operations means there will be more casualties. That applies to all of us."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the transfer Mr Brown referred to would "not necessarily" mean British troops coming home, suggesting the initial plan would mean UK forces withdrawing to an oversight role in areas handed over to the Afghans.

Public disillusionment with the war has been reinforced by the massive fraud which characterised the recent elections in Afghanistan. Questions are being asked in all the countries supplying troops for the Nato mission as to why soldiers should die for the government of Hamid Karzai which has been internationally labelled corrupt.

Britain with its force of 9,100 is the second-biggest contributor after the US to Nato's Afghan mission, and Mr Brown has already pledged to send reinforcements of another 500 troops.

Brigadier General Tremblay said that instead of the scale of the combat diminishing, the Taliban are trying to open up other fronts around the country. One of the most senior commanders in the British forces also told The Independent that there would be no withdrawal from the town of Musa Qala, which gained iconic significance after being retaken by British forces from the Taliban. "Even if we planned to do this, it simply would not be politically acceptable because of the sacrifices which have been made there," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Agency Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Network Support Engineer is r...

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - Tech Startup - Direct Your Own Career Path

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent