Britain will not 'lose our nerve' on Afghanistan: Fox
Britain will not lose its nerve over Afghanistan and expects to see "significant progress" there by the end of the year, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said Monday.
Fox's comments came shortly after Prime Minister David Cameron returned from his first trip to Afghanistan in the job amid questions over Britain's role in the conflict there.
On his trip, Cameron ruled out sending more troops and said he hoped for swift progress so Britain's roughly 9,500-strong deployment could return home.
A total of 295 British personnel have died in Afghanistan since operations started in 2001 and there is growing public pressure for withdrawals.
"Nobody wants British troops to be in Afghanistan a moment longer than is necessary," Cameron said during the trip.
But in a speech at Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London, Fox stressed that the situation in Afghanistan would take time to resolve.
"This is no time for us to lose our nerve and we must find the language to persuade the British people to stick with us," he said. "We cannot allow Afghanistan to be used again as a haven for terrorism."
He added that "by the end of the year, I expect that we will be able to show significant progress" through accelerated training of Afghan troops and consolidated progress in Helmand province, where much of the worst fighting has taken place.
Fox also warned of tough decisions to come when Britain's strategic defence review concludes later this year, in an atmosphere of government belt-tightening across the board as it seeks to slash a massive budget deficit.
"We face some difficult, delicate and politically-charged decisions. There are competing priorities, risks to manage and budgets to balance," Fox said. "We must act ruthlessly and without sentiment."
The new defence secretary caused controversy last month by commenting that he would like British troops to "come back as soon as possible" and referring to Afghanistan to "a broken 13th-century country".
Cameron's coalition government only took power last month.
It was announced Sunday that the head of the military, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, was to quit earlier than expected but that this was because he had not done enough to support troops in Afghanistan has been denied.
© 2010 AFP