BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  UK Politics
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 17 May, 2002, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Ministers accused of Afghan 'spin'
Royal Marines from 45 Commando in the eastern mountains of Afghanistan
Nicholas Soames praised the work of 45 Commando
The government's presentation of British troop operations in Afghanistan is "over hyped" and sounds more like they were about to "embark on D-Day", a Tory former armed forces minister has claimed.

Nicholas Soames, MP for Mid Sussex, said Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's prediction that there could be casualties during the search for al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters had been "unhelpful" to the soldiers' families.

The hype has made it seem as if they were about to embark on D-Day

Nicholas Soames

He claimed "Number 10 spin" was trying to weave its way into "even military operations".

Mr Soames made the criticisms as British and US forces joined Australian troops who came under attack on Thursday from suspected Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters in south-eastern Afghanistan.

British soldiers backed by American air power were sent to the eastern Paktia province, in an operation codenamed "condor".

'Swept along'

Mr Soames praised the work of 45 Commando and its associate support arms for denying an enormous area of frontier territory to al-Qaeda and for breaking down the terrorist infrastructure.

But he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "The trouble is it was all so desperately hyped up to start with that its very bad for the soldiers, quite frankly.

"They get sort of swept along in this great tide when this is actually the sort of operation for which they are well trained, well capable of doing and the hype has made it seem as if they were about to embark on D-Day."

Nicholas Soames, Tory MP
Soames: Mr Hoon was 'wrong' to say their could be casualties

Mr Soames, who was armed forces minister between 1994 and 1997, was disapproving of the way Mr Hoon announced that British troops would be involved in operations in Afghanistan.

"Uncharacteristically I thought, Geoff Hoon, who is a measured chap, went way over the top, but I think this is part of the Number 10 spin operation extending into even military operations.

'Serious operations'

"Military operations cannot, unfortunately, be run to the tune of the spin misters.

"They are extremely unpredictable. Nobody knows what happens.

"To be frank, I think it is very unhelpful to the families and to everyone else if, in announcing an operation, the secretary of state forecasts that there may be casualties.

If I was a Royal Marine commando, I would be extremely frustrated and feel not used but that it had been over done

Nicholas Soames

"He had no idea what they were going to do really when they got there because they operate in the light of the intelligence they receive at the time."

Mr Soames said it was "unfitting" to have so many journalists on the scene.

'Febrile atmosphere'

He argued: "These are very serious operations.

"Undoubtedly if they go wrong, it can be very bad news, but to keep a lot of journalists hanging around at Bagram airport in the expectation that there is going to be something very exciting to happen, may lead to decisions to commit troops that may be quite wrong.

"I am not suggesting that would happen, but it is an over febrile atmosphere.

"I think the whole thing has got out of kilter."

Mr Soames said he would have given more emphasis to the support British Troops and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were giving to the fledgling Afghan government than to the "tremendous build up" to the Royal Marine operations.

"If I was a Royal Marine commando, I would be extremely frustrated and feel, in many ways, not used but that it had been over done," added Mr Soames.

The BBC's John Andrew
"British Marines are at last getting their first taste of combat"
Brigadier Roger Lane
"I can confirm that the coalition has made contact with the enemy and that some have been killed"
Najam Sethi, editor of the Friday Times in Pakistan
"I really can't imagine that al-Qaeda is now such a serious threat"
See also:

17 May 02 | South Asia
Coalition troops in Afghan battle
17 May 02 | South Asia
Tribes resent al-Qaeda search
17 May 02 | South Asia
More troops struck by illness
14 May 02 | South Asia
Weapons cache 'was al-Qaeda's'
30 Apr 02 | South Asia
US-led forces in Afghan firefight
27 Apr 02 | South Asia
Fierce Afghan clash as Rumsfeld visits
16 Apr 02 | South Asia
Training key to marines' mission
07 Apr 02 | South Asia
Rocket fired at Kabul peacekeepers
17 May 02 | South Asia
Mullah Omar 'gives interview'
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK Politics stories