Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 12:35 UK

Most 'remain against Afghan war'

A British Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan
There is a fierce political debate about how many troops the UK should deploy

Most people in the UK continue to oppose Britain's military operations in Afghanistan, a BBC survey suggests.

Of 1,010 people polled on the eighth anniversary of the start of operations, 56% were opposed, 37% in favour, 6% unsure and 1% refused to answer.

The increase in opposition to the war is slight, despite the rising number of British soldiers killed in the last 12 months.

Three years ago 53% of those polled were opposed, and 31% were in favour.

Opposition to conflict

This year the number of British military personnel in the country rose from 8,000 to just over 9,000 - the second largest deployment of any nation. Since 2001, 220 UK troops have been killed on operations in Afghanistan.

Half of all men surveyed said they were opposed to the conflict and 65% of women also expressed opposition.

Of the overall 56% of respondents against the operations, there were more opposed aged 65 and over than any other age group at 60%.

Among young adults aged 18 to 24 that figure fell to 53% - the least of any age group.

A cabinet sub-committee will meet on Thursday to consider how the Afghan operation is resourced, but it will not take an immediate decision on increasing troop numbers before consultation with Britain's allies, Downing Street says.

There is a financial and human cost in this strategy which the nation must either pay, or accept that it has lost its presumed status and influence
Michael Codner, Royal United Services Institute

Gen Sir David Richards, the new head of the Army, is believed to want an extra 1,000 troops, according to Michael Codner, director of military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute.

But it is thought that the government may decide to send an additional 500 soldiers from the UK, with the other 500 being redeployed to Helmand province from elsewhere in Afghanistan.

The former army chief, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, has said Mr Brown refused a request from the military for 2,000 extra personnel - a claim denied by Downing Street.

Mr Codner says Britain needs to maintain its influence with the US with a consistent and reliable contribution of military forces.

"There is a financial and human cost in this strategy which the nation must either pay, or accept that it has lost its presumed status and influence and can relax and be a normal European country that does not take hard power seriously," he wrote in an article sent to the BBC.

Tour extended

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that some soldiers serving in Afghanistan have had their operational tour extended because of "complex" handover arrangements.

Troops from 19 Light Brigade had been due to end their six-month tour this month, with soldiers from 11 Light Brigade due to be deployed in their place.

The MoD denies suggestions the delay is a result of ministers failing to reach a decision on whether to send more troops.

HAVE YOUR SAY
We seem to be locked into a situation that may turn out to be a humiliating defeat
Peter Lee, Morecambe

"The changeover of any brigade is complex. Given the nature of continuing operational tasks, uncertainties over the Afghan presidential election, and consideration by Nato of General McChrystal's strategic assessment, this changeover is more complex than most," a spokesman says.

Leave arrangements will be reviewed to compensate the affected units, he added.

The survey comes at the same time as a BBC Radio 4 panel discussion on Afghanistan, due to be broadcast on Wednesday 7 October at 2000 BST.

In it, Lindsay German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, said the conflict was "mission impossible" and would prove to be an "unwinnable war".

But Brig Buster Howes, head of overseas operations at the Ministry of Defence, insisted that "significant clear, tangible progress" was being made.

Afghanistan: Is it mission impossible? A debate on BBC Radio 4
We also have to listen very very carefully to what public opinion is saying and we haven't done enough of that up to now
Eric Joyce

And Eric Joyce MP, a former aide to the defence secretary, warned that the fact the UK was making a "disproportionate effort in comparison with our allies" would affect the public's attitude towards the conflict.

He added: "We certainly have to celebrate everything our troops do on the ground, but we also have to listen very very carefully to what public opinion is saying and we haven't done enough of that up to now."

The war began on 7 October, 2001, in response to the 11 September attacks on New York - a combination of the US military's Operation Enduring Freedom and the British military's Operation Herrick.

Afghanistan: Is it mission impossible? will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2000 BST on Wednesday 7 October.



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