Ex-defence minister joins Britain's Afghan resource row

LONDON - Britain's recently-resigned defence secretary added his voice Saturday to calls for more support for troops in Afghanistan, as mounting casualties there pile the pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
John Hutton, who quit his post for family reasons six weeks ago, wrote in an article to appear in The Sunday Telegraph that the government had the right strategy in Afghanistan but said "more logistical support" was needed.

Ex-defence minister joins Britain's Afghan resource row
Since eight British soldiers were killed within 24 hours in Afghanistan last week, Brown has faced criticism from the main opposition Conservatives that his government is denying troops vital resources.
Senior military figures including army chief General Richard Dannatt have called for more troops and equipment for the seven-year-old conflict, which was stepped up last month with a new push against Talbian insurgents.
Hutton said the government was right to try to stabilise Afghanistan and defeat those offering a haven to Al-Qaeda through the military offensive, which aims to clear and hold areas of the volatile southern province of Helmand.
But he wrote: "It is going to take more resources to properly execute... It is clear we need more logistical support to reduce the risk of as much of the troop movements and supply effort as possible."
Following criticism last week by lawmakers that a lack of helicopters was having "adverse consequences" for the campaign, Hutton said ministers were right to try to make more helicopters available more quickly.
"I am sure that urgent discussions are also taking place about whether more troops are needed to improve our ground-holding capabilities and protection from roadside bombs," he said.
"The mood on the ground is unequivocal -- more resources in each of these areas would be helpful."
The recent loss of life has pushed the Afghan conflict to the top of the political agenda ahead of a general election which must be held by June 2010.
A new opinion poll for The Sunday Times put David Cameron's Conservatives on 42 per cent support, up two since last month, compared to 25 percent for Brown's Labour party, up one.
The YouGov poll of 1,956 voters July 16-17 put the centrist Liberal Democrats unchanged at 18 percent.
Sixty percent of those questioned agreed that Brown was trying to fight the war in Afghanistan "on the cheap," while just 20 percent said he was doing his best to provide the equipment the troops required.

Saturday, July 18th 2009

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