Page last updated at 14:02 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 15:02 UK

Afghan insurgents are 'weakened'

Bill Rammell: ''The strategy is about protecting our national interests''

Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell has said insurgents in Afghanistan have had their "command and control" weakened by Operation Panther's Claw.

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute in London Mr Rammell said insurgents had suffered "heavy losses" and had been split up.

He also said the armed forces face "deep and wide-ranging changes" to meet the demands of irregular warfare.

An MPs' report on Sunday said UK troops had too many tasks in Afghanistan.

During his speech, Mr Rammell also defended the government's legal appeal against compensation awarded to two wounded soldiers.

MPs said that poor government planning and a lack of realistic strategy and clear direction undermined the mission.

Mr Rammell said the recent Operation Panther's Claw mission had succeeded in its aim of clearing the Taliban from strategically important parts of Helmand province.

And he said this operation was now being followed up by civil reconstruction projects to provide new schools, clinics, roads, electricity and water.

"This is the new push in the cleared area, this is hold and build. Without that follow-up - that civic-political follow-up - we would not be able sustainably to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban," he said.

We are fighting the insurgents now in Afghanistan because the return of the hard core irreconcilable Taliban would give al-Qaeda greater freedom to operate
Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell

"But let me be clear - we are not in Afghanistan because girls are not allowed to go to school, but helping them to do so is an important down-payment to Afghans who are desperate for a better future for their children.

"It brings faith in the Afghan government and provides the opportunity for insurgents to lay down their arms and take up a peaceful life."

Pressuring al-Qaeda

Mr Rammell also said there was a need to "rebalance our investment in technology, equipment and people to meet the challenge of irregular warfare over the next decade, while still retaining our ability to respond to emerging state-led threats and other military challenges."

And the minister stated that British troops were fighting in Afghanistan to deny al-Qaeda a safe haven in land borders with Pakistan.

British forces in Afghanistan
Operation Panther's Claw has inflicted many losses on Afghan insurgents

"For Britain to be secure Afghanistan needs to be secure, Pakistan needs to be secure," he said.

"We are fighting the insurgents now in Afghanistan because the return of the hard core irreconcilable Taliban would give al-Qaeda greater freedom to operate - freedom to plan, to direct and to provide support for more terrorist attacks."

However, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee said the military mission had failed to deliver on its promises because of pressures placed on deployed troops.

The committee of MPs said that "mission creep" had brought too many responsibilities, including fighting the drugs trade.

It said the UK's deployment to Afghanistan's Helmand province was "undermined by unrealistic planning at senior levels, poor co-ordination between Whitehall departments and crucially a failure to provide the military with clear direction".

MPs also said UK troops should abandon their attempts to tackle the drugs trade and focus instead solely on security.

Compensation debate

Meanwhile, Labour MP Eric Joyce has said appeals against compensation for two wounded soldiers are "profoundly wrong" and should be ended.

Ministers have faced intense criticism over their bid to reduce the payouts to Cpl Anthony Duncan and Royal Marine Matthew McWilliams.

Cpl Duncan was initially awarded £9,250 after being shot, while Marine McWilliams received £8,250 for fracturing his thigh on a training exercise, before they appealed to a tribunal for further compensation.

Downing Street has said it is to continue pursuing the cases through the Court of Appeal, but that a review of the issue of compensation has been brought forward.

Conservative leader David Cameron has said there is a "very strong case" for sending more UK soldiers to Afghanistan.

And the new head of Nato, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said its priority must be the war in Afghanistan, including negotiations with moderate members of the Taliban.



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