British troops have to stay in Afghanistan: Fox

5th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

British troops have to stay in Afghanistan to prevent it from becoming a failed state and breeding ground for terrorism, newly appointed Defence Secretary Liam Fox said Saturday.

"In the first week that I was appointed defence secretary, my first visits were to the injured troops who have come back from Afghanistan, and the question that I asked myself was, looking at the human cost of conflict, should we be there?" he said at an annual security forum in Singapore.

"And my answer was, unequivocally, still yes," Liam added at the conference known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, also attended by his US counterpart Robert Gates and senior Asia-Pacific security officials.

"We could not afford to allow Afghanistan once again to become a failed state, a security vacuum into which might be drawn the forces of transnational terrorism which were unleashed on us in the past," he said.

Liam is a Conservative member of the British coalition government set up with the Liberal Democrats following the Labour Party's defeat in the May 6 elections.

The minister came under fire recently for describing Afghanistan in a newspaper interview as a "broken 13th-century country," a remark which Afghan officials and media called racist and disrespectful.

In a prepared speech to the Singapore meeting, Fox said he had "a daunting array of issues competing for attention" but his top priority was Afghanistan, where 9,500 British troops are part of a 60-nation international force.

"It is in Afghanistan that the resolve and capability of the international community to confront transnational terrorism is being tested," he said.

A total of 290 British troops have been killed since operations in Afghanistan began in October 2001. Of these, at least 255 were killed as a result of hostile action.

Most of the British forces are battling Taliban militants in the southern province of Helmand.

Fox called Saturday for NATO members to contribute more troops to training the Afghan armed forces, a mission which will be discussed at an upcoming summit of the alliance in Brussels.

"There is no reason why any nation should not be willing to contribute more troops to NATO training to enable the Afghan national security forces to attain the critical mass they require to be able to look after their own internal and external security," Fox said.

© 2010 AFP

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