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Don't leave this fight to the Few

LAST week our MPs had a preview of the best war film you’ll see this year. And it’s one with no actors.

The real-life cast is Delta Company, British soldiers fighting the fanatical Taliban in Helmand Province.

And the ending? It depends on Gordon Brown, and whether he’ll reinforce troops in Afghanistan.

MPs had turned up to see Ross Kemp’s Return To Afghanistan, being shown on Sky next Sunday.

For backbenchers and ministers alike, it’s their only way of finding out what our war there is really like.

The BBC, our so-called public service broadcaster, tells us more about the war in Gaza than Afghanistan. We hear about deaths, but rarely the victories, the heroism, the hits we score against the Taliban.

Our Boys are too loyal to complain. But Kemp spent months with them, and he can say what they can’t.

His message: we need MORE troops. You can’t hold territory with that tiny number, no matter how brave.

So will Brown reinforce that at this time in recession? Spend more on a war he hardly ever talks about?
It will be a defining moment for our Prime Minister. And it will also define Britain’s role in the world.

Our retreat from Basra was a humiliation, leaving the Iraqi city to the hands of the Shi’ite militias. We can’t afford to repeat this in Helmand. Britain’s reputation as a world military power is at risk.

Brown’s instinct, as ever, is to put off a decision. He can’t, because Barack Obama wants his answer.

The new president has asked for 2,000 more British troops to join the surge he’s planning for Afghanistan. It’s an agonising decision for Brown. He used to shout at Tony Blair for “wasting so much on defence”.

But Brown desperately wants Obama’s blessing. The only way to get this is proving he’s a real ally.

And if he doesn’t? Then he may find that Obama won’t invite him over—or come to visit him. Obama has also told Brown that he only “hopes” to come to April’s G20 summit in London i.e. he may not be there.

This would be devastating for our PM, who sees this pointless pow- wow as a meeting of the messiahs.

So it’s make-your-mind-up time. Afghan elections this year mean it’s a turning point. The warlords think the West will soon lose patience and go home. Obama’s determined to prove them wrong.

Brown knows this isn’t just about Afghanistan. It’s about Britain’s status as a world military power.

We damaged our reputation by pulling troops out of Basra. Americans had to go in and fix it. So if we fail to commit properly to Helmand, they’ll detect a theme.

And it’s not about money. Afghanistan costs under £2bn—a fraction of Brown’s £120bn annual borrowing. In John Hutton, Brown has a bold Defence Secretary utterly determined to see it through.

And as anyone who watches Ross Kemp’s film will see, we have the finest soldiers in the world.
So, do we reinforce them and finish the mission that 142 Britons have already given their lives for? Or do we try to fight a war on the cheap and risk letting Afghanistan slip back into anarchy?

There is no third option. Gordon Brown must make his mind up. And Britain’s status as a military power may be decided by his answer.



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