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Beckenham MP demands Afghanistan war exit strategy

PUBLISHED: 16:56 15 September 2010

Colonel Bob Stewart

Colonel Bob Stewart

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An MP and former United Nations Commander says "fundamental" mistakes have been made during the war in Afghanistan, and has called on the government and the public to give more support to our troops.

Colonel Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham, spoke during a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday when he criticised a number of tactical and strategic decisions made by the military during the war. He told how 12 members of his old battalion, the Mercian Regiment, have died and 70 been injured on their current tour in Afghanistan.

The MP called on the government to ensure troops “are given everything they require” as well as our “full support”. He highlighted the need for a strategy which could see British armed forces leave by 2014.

Speaking after the debate, Mr Stewart told the Times: “Our soldiers are fully supported by the public, but the public are not in support of the war, in what they are doing in Afghanistan.

“The soldiers over there don’t understand this difference. The only way of changing the public support is to have a strategy, a way of finally leaving Afghanistan having done the job we set out to do.

“I spoke to one of my soldiers in my old battalion at the funeral of Lieutenant John Sanderson, and he said to me: ‘Don’t let our sacrifice be in vain. Let us have achieved something for the soldiers we have lost.’

“I want them all to come home as soon as possible, and before 2014 if that is achievable, but the only way they can come home quickly is if we get it right, give them what they need and our full support.” Mr Stewart, the first British United Nations commander in Bosnia, said that troops he has spoken to questioned some of the tactical and strategic decisions made during the war.

He added: “We have made some fundamental mistakes.

“When we went in 2002, we went in ‘light’. We went in with air power and special forces. We then thought we had done the job and left it to President Karzai, but in 2003, when it had gone wrong, we had to send troops back in.

“In 2006, we sent in men that were based too far apart, isolated, and we couldn’t support them. We could only support them with extensive use of air power, and by this we killed a huge amount of people.

“In 2007 and 2008, we went back to counter-insurgency tactics, the way of taking, holding and building. We took the land, but we couldn’t hold it. We just didn’t have the manpower. We had to withdraw, and then the Taliban came back, and this is when they started using improvised explosive devices.”

He welcomed President Barack Obama’s decision to pledge another 30,000 American troops to the country.

“We have taken nine years to get there, but now we have the chance to do what we set out to do,” he said.

“There is now great optimism that we will be able to reach the endgame, and get to a situation where our troops can come home and feel that John Sanderson and other young men and women have given their lives for something worthwhile.”

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