Brown appeals to Labour MPs over Afghan war

Email attempts to head off calls for a Commons vote on pulling out the troops

Gordon Brown and three cabinet ministers have moved to shore up wavering support among Labour backbenchers for the war in Afghanistan.

In a joint email to the party's MPs, they insist the military action is essential for Britain's security and argue UK forces are receiving "the best possible support".

The moves comes after 23 Labour MPs called for an urgent Commons debate and vote on Britain's involvement in Afghanistan, which is now in its ninth year.

The party's MPs have reported a sharp increase in numbers of constituents opposing the war as the British death toll in Afghanistan mounts.

Mr Brown was joined by Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth and International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander in the attempt to steel their MPs' nerve. They have also circulated a draft letter for MPs to send to constituents who lobby for troops to be pulled out of the war zone.

The email message to MPs, obtained by The Independent, says: "The reason Britain has sent military forces to Afghanistan is clear – our national security is at stake. Afghanistan was where al-Qa'ida trained and planned terror attacks – including September 11th."

It insists the UK is not operating alone, arguing that the strategy in Afghanistan is supported by the United Nations as well as "43 troop-deploying countries, and many others who contribute funding and civilian staff".

MPs are told that Britain's presence has increased from 5,500 troops in the autumn of 2006 to around 9,000 today. Another 500 that have been promised will not be deployed unless their equipment is satisfactory, other nations agree to send more soldiers and the "new Afghan government steps up to the challenges it faces, including corruption." The letter adds: "Above all, we would never commit British troops to Afghanistan unless we were convinced that our security demanded it."

In response to fears over the equipment supplied to the forces, the ministers say the Government has spent more than £1.2bn on new vehicles for Afghanistan in the past two years and increased helicopter numbers in Afghanistan by more than 60 per cent between 2006 and 2009.

The ministers say "stable and legitimate Afghan government leadership is key" to their approach. They admit they were "dissatisfied by the level of intimidation and fraud" in this summer's election, but add: "It is still important to remember that despite the Taliban's intimidation, millions of Afghans voted."

Mr Brown has delivered three speeches since September in which he justified Britain's involvement in Afghanistan. Mr Miliband, who was in Afghanistan yesterday for the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai, also sought this week to soothe fears that troops could be bogged down indefinitely fighting the insurgency. However, a motion demanding a Commons debate on "the UK's role in Afghanistan, the objectives of this intervention and the timescale over which the Government believes these goals will be achieved" has been backed by 23 Labour MPs, including four former ministers.

The motion's sponsor, Frank Field, told The Independent: "We don't want an email. We want a debate. There's not a member that doesn't grow more disturbed by the scenario unfolding before us in Afghanistan. Even if some of them do not wish to change policy, there's widespread and deep unease among the Parliamentary Labour Party."

Harry Cohen, the MP for Leyton and Wanstead, was scathing about the contents of the email, claiming it was full of inaccuracies and omissions. He said: "All those troops and all those civilians who have died – they are neglected in this letter." He added: "Before the election they were saying our principal reason for being in Afghanistan was to bring democracy – where is that in this letter?"

Mr Cohen also questioned the claim that the war was in Britain's security interests: "The Iraq war increased the risk of terrorism in this country. Rather than improving our safety, being in Afghanistan could make it worse."

A senior government source said: "We want to get the message out to everyone – not just in the country but to colleagues on the back benches.

"They are worried and concerned about this issue and they want to see strong leadership from Gordon – and he is giving it."

In the Lords, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, a former chief of the defence staff, repeated a call for an end to government "dithering" over Afghanistan but said the situation was not without hope. "Our servicemen and women in the front line need to know the Government and the people are for them and the Government and the people are resolute. They do not want to see – and I use a word others have used – dithering."

In defence of war: Brown's email

* "The reason Britain has sent military forces to Afghanistan is clear – our national security is at stake. Afghanistan was where al-Qa'ida trained and planned terror attacks – including September 11."

* "Our strategy in Afghanistan is supported by the United Nations, 43 troop-deploying countries, and many others who contribute funding and civilian staff. We do not operate alone."

* "The training of Afghan forces is central to our mission. Success will be when the Afghan National Army and National Police are strong enough to provide for their own security."

* "Our strategy is combined with strong support for Pakistan in its efforts against terrorism and extremism on the other side of the Afghan-Pakistan border... "If the coalition withdraws from Afghanistan prematurely, it could have enormous consequences for Pakistan.

* "We have increased our military forces in Afghanistan progressively from 5,500 in the autumn of 2006... to around 9,000.

* "On 14 October we announced our intention to increase this further to 9,500 subject to certain conditions being met... We will not implement this increase unless we are sure the balance of risk taken on equipment is judged by the military to be acceptable – and unless there is an agreed strategy with fair burden-sharing across the international coalition and unless the new Afghan government steps up to the challenges it faces, including corruption.

* "Above all, we would never commit British troops to Afghanistan unless we were convinced that our security demanded it."

* "We are committed to ensuring our forces in Afghanistan have the best possible support. Military spending on Afghanistan – from the Reserve, on top of the defence budget – is now at £390,000 per soldier fighting, compared to £180,000 in 2006."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there