Tories call for deployment of more ground forces

War on terrorism: Politics
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Nicholas Soames, the former defence minister, led MPs in a call for greater deployment of British forces in Afghanistan to accelerate the military action.

He questioned Britain's commitment to stepping up the campaign after Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces Minister, announced that only 200 of the 600 Marine commandos currently in the Persian Gulf would be used to aid military operations in Afghanistan.

Mr Ingram told MPs that the deployment of ground troops was a "grave step" but that it was "a concrete demonstration of our resolve to see the campaign against international terrorism to the end."

Mr Soames disagreed: "What possible military use could all of 200 men in the lead force of HMS Fearless be when the main component of the force is back at home base? Surely this is not evidence of any great desire to step up the campaign, which is what needs to be done. Most of us had hoped you might announce a significant stepping up in the tempo of operations and, indeed, quite possibly the deployment of forces on the ground."

John Wilkinson, the Tory MP for Ruislip Northwood, said: "It is much better to employ more troops fast, now, than to have to make a build-up later because the mission has not been accomplished as swiftly or successfully as desired."

Bernard Jenkin, the Tory's defence spokesman, said the Opposition supported the Government. "To falter would be a fatal signal of encouragement to the terrorists and to those who sustain them, not just in Afghanistan but around the world," he said.

He called for confirmation that no decision had been taken about deploying large numbers of ground troops in Afghanistan and asked that "any such decisions to commit to ground operations will be based on concrete intelligence and clear and achievable objectives to enable them to define and to maintain clear operational aims."

Stuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesborough, said: "Whilst there may be dissident and siren voices who are entitled to be heard, they should be washed out in the clamour of support for our armed services."

But some Labour backbenchers joined Liberal Democrat MPs in calling for troops to be assigned to the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, asked: "What assistance is this increased deployment in the area to making sure that food aid gets through to those people who are desperately hungry and starving?"

Mr Ingram insisted that Mr Corbyn "does not have a monopoly on compassion."

Tam Dalyell, the Father of the House, called for attacks to cease during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts next month. "It would be folly in terms of the Islamic and Arab world if we were to conduct military operations during Ramadan," he said.

Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrat international development spokesman, said: "There are 5 million people at risk of starvation over the winter in Afghanistan." She asked Mr Ingram: "Does he have any plans at all for military personnel to assist in the distribution of aid, either by changing the nature of the bombing or by forming safe corridors?"

Mr Ingram replied that if Ms Tonge was trying to suggest that the Government did not care about aid, "then I don't think she lives in the world in which I live".