July 17, 2009

Transcript of interview with British Forces Broadcasting Service

Sunday 12 July 2009

The Prime Minister was interviewed by the British Forces Broadcasting Service on the topic of Afghanistan, Saturday 11 July 2009.


Interviewer

Prime Minister, it’s been a difficult period for the armed forces. What would be your message at the moment to members of the armed forces and their families?

Prime Minister


I want to thank all our armed forces, particularly those who are in Afghanistan at the moment, for their professionalism, for their courage and for their sense of duty. I know that this has been a difficult summer so far and it is going to continue to be a difficult summer. I think that the British people want to thank the armed forces for what they have done and I want to acknowledge the difficulties that have been faced, but to emphasise that the work we started in 2001, which was to clear terrorist networks from Afghanistan and make our streets in Britain a great deal safer, is work that continues now so that in the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan we can clear terrorist networks and make the streets of Britain safe for the people of our country, and so this is a patriotic duty. There is a clear strategy. I have worked very closely with President Obama. Of course, there are 40 countries and more involved in this coalition and we need to continue this work, particularly over the summer when Afghan people want to vote in elections, and the democracy that was started by the work that we were involved in from 2001 can be seen to be moving forward and delivering the homes, the schools, the health services and, of course, the economic reconstruction that is necessary for this country.

Interviewer

You say it’s going to be a difficult summer and, inevitably, do you believe that means more casualties and the public and military need to prepare themselves for that?

Prime Minister

I believe it’s been a difficult few weeks. We’ve lost eight people over two days. We’ve lost 14 people over 10 days. We’ve now lost 184 people in Afghanistan and these sacrifices that have hurt so many families in our country are ones that the whole of Britain will want to acknowledge and say that the sacrifice that has been made by these families will never be forgotten. We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have worked very hard in Afghanistan to ensure that terrorist networks and terrorists are dealt with and prevented from operating in Britain.

Over the next few weeks the operation that has started will continue. I’m assured, having had a very lengthy briefing from those people involved in the planning of it, that we are making considerable progress. What has happened, as everybody knows, is that the tactics of the Taliban have moved from direct confrontation to the guerrilla warfare of using electronic devices, roadway bombs and making life very difficult for our troops. But in April this year we added to the number of engineers who were clearing these roadside and other bombs and I think it’s important to recognise that a great deal of that work has prevented other traps and therefore saved a large number of lives as a result.

So while it is difficult this summer, I believe that the progress that has already been made in this one exercise in which large numbers of our troops are involved, and there’s a similar exercise being conducted by the Americans, is real and it will mean that we are both clearing the ground and making it possible for Governor Mangal in Helmand to be able to bring about reconstruction, to get meetings with local people, to start building some of the services that are necessary to get the election polling places into situation. This is not a one-off effort where people clear the ground and then everybody leaves and the terrorists can come back. This is a continuous effort where having cleared the ground, which our British troops are doing brilliantly, then we have services brought in, the civilian work being done, election stations being constructed and, of course, the services that the Afghan people have long wanted able to be provided by civilians and particularly, of course, backed up by the Afghan troops themselves.

Interviewer
I was in the Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett yesterday when the hearses carrying the bodies of five servicemen passed through. Hundreds of people there were watching. They said to me that they were there to pay their respects because they supported British servicemen and women doing the job, but many of them said to me they did not support the war. What are we fighting for out there?

Prime Minister

Well, first of all, I think it’s very, very typical of British people that they will want to give our servicemen and women all the support that they need, and I myself was present at Armed Forces Day in Chatham and had a number of receptions for those people who are reservists or veterans or people who have served and are serving in our armed forces in the last few weeks and I know that public support for our armed forces is very strong.

Of course people want to know if the action that we are taking with America and with 40 other countries is the right action and it comes back to terrorism on the streets of Britain. If we were to allow the Taliban to be back in power in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda then to have the freedom of manoeuvre it had before 2001, then we would be less safe as a country. So there is a line of terror, what you might call a chain of terror that links what is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain. Three quarters of all terrorist plots that our security services have had to deal with and identify and then prevent have come from those mountainous areas. They have been planned there, there has been cooperation or coordination with people who are active there, and that has been the threat to people on the British streets.

So what we are doing in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, in what is a crucible of terrorism around the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, is making the streets of Britain safer as a result of taking on the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda and taking on the Pakistani Taliban. What is new in the last few months that I think is an encouraging development, despite the casualties that we have had, is that the Pakistan authorities are now taking on the Pakistan Taliban and then Al Qaeda. So we have action in the Swat Valley, we have it in Waziristan and so what is happening on the Afghan side of the border where we are taking on the Afghan Taliban is now starting to be complemented by what is happening on the Pakistan side of the border and that gives us some hope that if we can have success and progress in both areas then the terrorist threat to the rest of the world is diminished.

Interviewer
The people will say British soldiers have been there for eight years. It only took six years to defeat Hitler and Nazi Germany. When will the time come that a British soldier will be able to hang up his rifle and say ‘job done’?

Prime Minister
We’re dealing with a terrorist threat. We cleared the Taliban out of government in Afghanistan. We made it possible for people to vote. Millions of children are now at school. Healthcare has been created for the Afghan people. What happened in the subsequent years, as everybody knows, is that Al Qaeda moved its base from being under the Taliban or with the Taliban in Afghanistan to Waziristan and into Pakistan. What we’ve got is this crucible of terrorism where terrorist networks operate in both Afghanistan and Pakistan around the border areas and we’re dealing with Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban. Now, it’s in the interests of the whole world, and I was talking to President Obama about this when we met at the G8 and the whole of the G8 group of countries supported what we’re doing, to take on this terrorist threat and we have to make sure that that is contained and is dealt with both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is not something that could have been done in a year or in a few months. It’s something that has engaged 40 countries, has led to us deploying 9,000 troops, has brought 17,000 extra American troops in in the last few weeks, has meant that countries are dealing with supporting the Afghan elected government on one side of the border and the Pakistan government on the other side of the border. But we are making progress as a result of what’s been happening in Pakistan particularly in the last few weeks, but also in Afghanistan as our summer operations have taken on the Taliban and the operation itself is showing signs of success.

Interviewer
And British commanders need more troops and they need more equipment.

Prime Minister
We’ve increased the number of troops for this election period. A few years ago, we had about 4,500 troops. At the beginning of this year we had 8,100. We are now up to 9,000 troops and we’ve increased our troops for this election period so that we can clear the ground, make it possible for democracy to work in Afghanistan during this election period and -

Interviewer
Lord Guthrie says you need an extra 2,000 troops. He’s a former chief of the defence staff.

Prime Minister
Well, we have increased our troops from 8,100 to 9,000. I did this after talking to President Obama and talking to the other members of the coalition. There are 40 countries. We are the second largest contributor of troops to Afghanistan and I think people understand that we have radically increased the amount of resources we’ve made available in Afghanistan over the last period of time. Of course we will consider and review in the light of circumstances what the needs are having consulted the commanders on the ground, but I think we made a substantial increase in our numbers during the course of this year so that we could take Afghanistan through its election period and ensure that the democracy that was first established some years ago, after we removed the Taliban, is secure with proper, fair and free elections being conducted this summer.

As for resources, we’ve spent over £1 billion on over 1,000 new vehicles since 2008. We’ve included in that 280 Mastiff, which offer world class protection against mines and roadside bombs. We must do more and we will do more and later this year the new Ridgeback vehicles will also go out to Afghanistan. We’ve also sent more helicopters. Our commanders have almost twice as much helicopter capability as two years ago. But of course we must do more there as well and later this year the Merlins will go out to Afghanistan. So wherever there is a need for equipment we have looked at the case and £1 billion extra has been spent on equipment over this last period of time.

Interviewer
And if the military were to come to you and say, ‘Prime Minister, we need 2,000 more men to do this job in Helmand’ would you make that available to them?

Prime Minister
Well, this is a matter for discussion with our military commanders and, of course, with our allies. I think there’s a feeling in Britain that is quite legitimate, that we have contributed a very substantial amount of the troops that are on service in Afghanistan. We’ve not only taken on the most difficult area, and I applaud our troops for the professionalism with which they’ve done this, Helmand, which is a very, very difficult terrain, but we’re also, at 9,000, the second biggest force. And we’re working, of course, with other countries in Helmand, but we are the largest, apart from the Americans, in the whole area and there is a sense that burden sharing is important to this exercise. If 41 or more countries are involved in the joint mission, then Britain is already making a very substantial contribution, so we would want to talk to the rest of our allies about what is needed.

What is absolutely clear is that the military exercise must also be complemented by the civilian exercise. We are training the Afghan army. We’ve probably trained, with the Americans and others, about 80,000 troops in the Afghan army. That will rise to 130,000. Some of us believe that we will probably need to train more in the Afghan army. At the same time, we’re training the Afghan police. This is probably something that should move a lot quicker with European and other cooperation to do so. At the same time, we are putting in a great deal of civilian resources so we help build a civil society in Afghanistan. When we looked at the strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan over these last few months, and we published a very, very detailed document in April and I gave a statement to the House of Commons, we recognised we had to train the Afghan army and police so that we could pass control of some of the areas over to the Afghans themselves. We had to complement the military exercise with the work of reconstruction so that people in Afghanistan feel that they have a stake in the economic future of Afghanistan and that has meant, of course, considerable development aid as well.

So this is part of a coordinated strategy involving civilian and military work, involving support for redevelopment and reconstruction, involving action with our security support for the Pakistan attempts to clear the area of terrorists in the Swat Valley and then to move on to Waziristan, and we are giving what support we can to Pakistan also in development aid so that they can have a population in these areas. There’s more money going into these areas where they too have a stake in the future. It’s a coordinated strategy. It now involves the borders of Afghanistan and also Pakistan. It’s dealing with the fact of terrorist networks, but it’s a civilian and military exercise that we’re conducting. As we have developed that strategy so too has America and so too have other countries come in to support of it.

Interviewer

Does it worry you at times that this operation in Helmand Province could be Britain’s Vietnam?

Prime Minister

I think the operation in Helmand Province, the operation itself that we’re now engaged with, is showing signs of success. Our troops are making progress as they attempt to make the area safe not only for civilians in Afghanistan, but obviously for elections to take place over the next few weeks, and the reports that I have show that despite the loss of life, and it’s tragic and very, very sad indeed when there’s loss of life, that our forces are doing a magnificent job in moving forward and they have not been prevented from moving into new areas by what has happened. Indeed, they are moving forward and, according to their timetable, are making the progress that they want to see. And I think our troops should know this is part of this wider coordinated strategy. We’re taking on terrorism in Pakistan. We’re taking on terrorism in Afghanistan. We’re doing it not simply by the military work, which is so crucial and so important to the future of our country, but complementing it this time with civilian work and with work at reconstruction of both these countries. I believe that this strategy, which starts from the same premise as 2001, that we’ve got to clear these areas of the terrorist threat that exists to the United Kingdom and to other countries, that this strategy is being pursued by these new means both in Pakistan and Afghanistan and I believe will yield greater success as we move through the summer months.

Interviewer
Thank you very much.

http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page20015


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