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Last Updated: Friday, 14 December 2007, 11:29 GMT
'Upsurge' in Afghanistan support
Brigadier Andrew Mackay. Crown copyright (MOD)
Brigadier Andrew Mackay commands Taskforce Helmand
The British commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier Andrew Mackay, has said there is more public support for the campaign there than for Iraq operations.

He said he had noted a "recent upsurge" in public appreciation for the efforts in Afghanistan.

But the Iraq war was still mired in "the whole legality issue - spin and dodgy dossiers", he said.

British forces recently took part in a joint operation to capture Musa Qala, a Taleban stronghold in Helmand province.

'Continual drumbeat'

The officer commands 52 Brigade and took over responsibility for Helmand Province in October, where most of the 6,000 British personnel in the country are based.

He has also served in Iraq.

"I think generally you are made to feel the British public support Afghanistan," he said from the British base of Lashkar Gah.

"I did nine months in Iraq. There's no doubt when sitting in Iraq you did not enjoy the British public's support."

Brig Mackay said press coverage of Afghanistan was "relentlessly negative" but added there has "certainly been a recent upsurge in the public appreciation".

British troops in Afghanistan
British troops in Afghanistan, part of 52 Infantry Brigade

He was speaking after he led 2,500 British troops in the assault on Musa Qala. The town is now in the hands of the Afghan National Army.

Brig Mackay acknowledged criticism that pay and housing were poor - "some of that is true, but to have it as a continual drumbeat ..."

"Some of the criticism, frankly, was deserved.

"I think there's no doubt we did not do well to begin with on looking after casualties. That got fixed very quickly.

"There's no doubt we could have done better in terms of the after-duty care of soldiers. That's now fixed as well, by and large."

Diplomatic background

He compared the diplomatic background in Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, highlighting the existence of a United Nations Afghanistan resolution: "It's do-able, it's winnable."

But there was no such diplomatic success for Iraq and a great deal of public criticism of the government's political strategy.

"I did nine months in Iraq. There's no doubt when sitting in Iraq you did not enjoy the British public's support.

"I think Iraq is mired in the whole legality issue - spin, dodgy dossiers, the way it's turned out."

British forces are due to hand back control of Basra province to the Iraqis on Sunday. It is the final area of Iraq still under British control.

The 4,500 British troops still there will now focus on training Iraqi forces. UK troop numbers are set to be reduced to 2,500 from the spring.

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