Eric Joyce: 'The public will not accept for much longer that our losses can be justified'

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I know that you [Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth] have great commitment to our armed forces and this was clear when you visited Afghanistan this week, yet there seem to me to be some problems which need fixing with the greatest urgency.

As you know, two Black Watch soldiers gave their lives during your visit. I do not think the public will accept for much longer that our losses can be justified by simply referring to the risk of greater terrorism on our streets. Nor do I think we can continue with the present level of uncertainty about the future of our deployment in Afghanistan.

We must be much more direct about the reality that we do punch a long way above our weight, that many of our allies do far too little, and that leaving the field to the United States would mean the end of Nato as a meaningful proposition. We also need to make it clear that our commitment in Afghanistan is high but time-limited. It should be possible now to say we will move off our present war-footing and reduce our forces there substantially during our next term in government.

We also need a greater geopolitical return from the United States for our efforts. The first place to start is an acceptance this week by them, and by the Afghanistan electoral authorities, that there must be a second round in the elections there. I do not think the British people will support the physical risk to our servicemen and women unless they can be given confidence that Afghanistan's government has been properly elected and has a clear intent to deal with the corruption there.

Most important of all, we must make it clear to every serviceman and woman, their families and the British public that we give their well-being the highest political priority. Behind the hand attacks by any Labour figure on senior service personnel are now, to the public, indistinguishable from attacks on the services themselves. Conversely, in my view we should allow our service personnel greater latitude to voice their views on matters which make distinctions between defence and politics pointless.

Labour must remember that service folk and their families are our people. We say that we honour them for their risk, bravery and sacrifice and we must at literally all costs continue to show by our actions that we mean it.

This is an extract from Eric Joyce's resignation letter to the Defence Secretary

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