British public support for Afghan war slides: poll

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The head of Britain's armed forces on Thursday admitted that public support for the Afghanistan campaign was waning as a poll released on the eve of the war's 10th anniversary revealed most Briton wanted an immediate troop withdrawal.

General Sir David Richards, the chief of the defence staff, admitted that the armed forces were losing "the battle of perceptions" among the British public, during an interview with ITV News.

His fears were backed up by a poll carried out for the broadcaster by ComRes which showed that 57 percent of Britons wanted the soldiers brought home immediately.

Britain will withdraw 500 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, leaving 9,000 in the country.

Prime Minister David Cameron has stressed that Britain's commitment to Afghanistan would endure after the last NATO combat troops leave the country at the end of 2014.

However, 71 percent of those polled believe that the war is unwinnable, a rise of 11 percent since the same question was asked in June.

Also, 60 percent said that the cause did not justify the deaths of British soldiers, an issue Richards was keen to address.

The military chief explained that Britain was fighting for its "own rather selfish national security" and that the country would suffer if Afghanistan turned into another Somalia or Yemen.

The public remained sceptical of this line of argument with 62 percent of those polled disagreeing that having British forces in Afghanistan made Britain a safer place.

Some 58 percent said they thought that having British forces in Afghanistan actually increased the likelihood of an attack on British soil.

Richards accepted that Afghanistan could again become a safe haven for extremists once NATO troops leave, but that it was unlikely under the current proposals.

"If our plan is successfully implemented ... then there's no reason to think it will deteriorate into that sort of place that your worst imagination is getting at," he argued.

"I think we've got to be clear that we're not talking about creating a Switzerland in that part of the world but we are talking about a country that can look after itself," he added. "I think it is do-able."

© 2011 AFP

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