Public support 'crucial' to Afghan success, says general

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The Independent Online

Public support is "crucially important" to the success of mission in Afghanistan, the senior British commander in the country warned today, as the death toll among British troops rose to 231.

Lieutenant General Jim Dutton, the deputy commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, spoke out as the MoD announced the death of a soldier who died in a blast near Sangin, Helmand Province, yesterday, on the eve of Remembrance Sunday.

Lt Gen Dutton said people needed to understand that British troops were not being sacrificed simply for the sake of the government of President Hamid Karzai.

"British soldiers are not dying simply to provide an electoral opportunity for Afghans," he said in an interview with the BBC1 Politics Show to be broadcast later today.

"There is much more to the provision of stability in this area of the world, which is a project for which I have to say, yes, it is worth some soldiers having to die for because the consequences of it going wrong are far greater."

The serviceman who was killed, from the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, was praised by Task Force Helmand spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel David Wakefield, who said: "He died a soldier, doing his duty and among his fellow soldiers. He will not be forgotten."

The soldier's family have been informed.

On Friday, Gordon Brown issued a warning to the Afghan president that he must do more to tackle corruption and build good governance if he was to continue to receive the support of the international community.

Lt Gen Dutton said that he believed the public would continue to support the campaign in Afghanistan provided that they understood what it was trying to achieve and how it could be done.

"I think I can say without any doubt that support back home is crucially important but I don't sense any lack of support for soldiers back home," he said.

"I think the British people, and indeed all our populations back home, will put up with the cost of this sort of operation, and I mean the cost in human and financial terms, if they believe two things: one that we're right and two that we can win.

"We have to convince them of that - that we have a good plan, that we're right to be doing this. We have momentum along that path and they have to believe that we can win."

However, a ComRes opinion poll for the programme found that almost two thirds - 64 per cent - now believe that the war is "unwinnable", while a similar proportion - 63 per cent - wanted British troops to be withdrawn as soon as possible.

Lt Gen Dutton acknowledged the mission was not making as much progress as they would like and that the situation was, as the US commander General Stanley McChrystal had warned, "serious and deteriorating".

"It's not necessarily going backwards, it's certainly not going forwards and certainly not at the speed we would wish," he said.

He said that under Gen McChrystal's proposals - currently under review by the US administration - the international forces would "suppress" the Taliban insurgency over the next three to four years, while they trained up the Afghan security forces to take over from them.

While he said that it would be "extremely helpful" if more could be done in this area, it was important not to rush the process.

"We don't want to build an inefficient army," he said. "We want to build a good army and a good police force and that takes time and that's why we need international forces to cover that gap."