Gordon Brown issued a stark warning to the Afghan President Hamid Karzai that Britain will not continue to put its forces "in harm's way" in his country unless he is prepared to root out corruption.
The Prime Minister sought to combat growing hostility among the British public to the mission in Afghanistan by making clear the operation depended on a new approach from the newly re-elected President Karzai. He warned him he would lose the right to the international community's support unless he made progress towards meeting five tests on governance, security, reconciliation, economic development and relations with Pakistan.
However, the Tories accused Mr Brown of sending "mixed messages" because he insisted Britain would not "walk away" while hinting that its troops would be pulled back or withdrawn unless the tests are met. Downing Street denied that the Prime Minister was contemplating defeat in Afghanistan or threatening a troop withdrawal. A more likely scenario is withdrawing support for President Karzai.
Mr Brown's spokesman said: "We have no intention of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan until we have completed our campaign. We expect he will be able to deliver on the five tests. We are planning for success in this strategy."
Number 10 said the Afghan President had accepted the tests in three telephone calls with Mr Brown this week. The Prime Minister is trying to show leadership on the issue as Nato allies await President Barack Obama's long-delayed decision on whether to send a further 40,000 troops to Afghanistan.
But Mr Brown came under further pressure when the House of Lords debated Afghanistan yesterday, as news of Thursday's latest casualty, that of Sgt Phillip Scott of The Third Battalion The Rifles, was disclosed. General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, accused him of "dithering" over his promise to send 500 extra troops to the country and said the Government had failed to provide adequate numbers of helicopters to prevent the loss of British lives.
He warned: "The people on the frontline, are beginning to question whether the Government is really really committed to making progress in Afghanistan".
Lord Inge, another former defence chief, said the delay in Washington and London over more troops was " sending a very bad message". He said: "We need clear direction and not hesitant leadership. The armed forces in particular need to know that they have the nation's support and they have confidence in their political direction and that they are not fighting and risking their lives for nothing."
Addressing the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, Mr Brown said that as long as al-Qa'ida continued to plot attacks on Britain from the region, Britain "cannot, must not and will not walk away".
Declaring that the Afghan Government had become "a byword for corruption", he warned: "I am not prepared to put the lives of British men and women in harm's way for a government that does not stand up against corruption." He called for the appointment of an international "anti-corruption czar" to advise the Kabul administration, along with an anti-corruption commission and special crimes tribunal. Acknowledging criticism that the mission has not been explained to voters, Mr Brown said: "What people here in Britain ask for is the same as our forces on the ground ask for – a clear sense of what success in Afghanistan would look like, and how we will get there.
"My answer is: we will have succeeded when our troops are coming home because the Afghans are providing security themselves, continuing the essential work of denying the territory of Afghanistan as a base for terrorists."
Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, accused Mr Brown of confusing military goals with governance and human rights issues which, although linked, were different. "He was right to say you cannot walk away – and if you cannot walk away that's it", he said. "We want to see the Karzai Government dealing with corruption but remember where the Karzai Government is... corruption is endemic in that part of the world. It will take a long time for people to turn round how they carry out their affairs."Reuse content