Bill Rammell: Our troops in Afghanistan are fighting to keep us safe from terrorism

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The Independent Online

In April, the Prime Minister set out in detail how our strategic engagement in Afghanistan is part of our strategic engagement in the region as a whole.

The greatest international priority in tackling terrorism around the globe is the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. One hundred and ninety one Armed Forces personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2001. With the hard fighting over the last few weeks, and the casualties that it has brought, it is all the more important to reinforce why we are there and what we are achieving.

Our troops are in Afghanistan to keep our country safe from the threat of terrorism. To prevent al-Qa'ida having a secure base from which to threaten us directly. But this is not just about the UK's national security. Forty-two nations are taking part – one of the widest ever international coalitions. It is about their national security too.

Let us not forget the threat posed by Taliban rule in Afghanistan before 2001. It was there that the horrors of 9/11 were planned. It was there that recruits were trained in the methods of terrorism. It was there that al-Qa'ida leaders were planning and directing further major terrorist operations which would, no doubt, have been aimed at the UK and others.

Lest we think that this is a thing of the past, the Director General of the Office for Security and Counter- Terrorism at the Home Office has made clear recently that a significant proportion of the people arrested in connection with terrorist offences in Europe over the past few years have been trying to engage in insurgencies in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Entire facilitation networks have emerged around Europe to enable them to do so. Some of these people then intend to come back to Europe and re-engage with the terrorist networks whose focus is on operations here.

So our ultimate objective in 2001 holds true for 2009: to protect our citizens from terrorist attacks by preventing al-Qa'ida having a safe haven in the tribal belt whether it be in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

This is an edited extract from a speech given to the the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) yesterday morning by the Armed Forces Minister