It was once thought unthinkable that a British defense secretary would issue this kind of talk. But the Obama Administration made it necessary, now didn’t it?
Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, has blamed Barack Obama and the United States for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan.
Mr Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticising the US President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban.
A “period of hiatus” in Washington – and a lack of clear direction – had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said.
Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defence chiefs echoing the concerns.
But Mr Ainsworth is the first Government minister to express in public what amounts to personal criticism of the US president’s leadership over the conflict which has so far cost 235 British lives.
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Next week, after more than three months of deliberation, the president is expected to announce that he will send around 34,000 more troops.
Mr Ainsworth, speaking to MPs at the defence committe in the House of Commons, welcomed that troop ‘surge’ decision, but lamented the time taken to reach it.
He said that the rising British death toll, the corruption of the Afghan government and the delay in Washington all hamper efforts to retain public backing for the deployment.
“We have suffered a lot of losses,” he said. “We have had a period of hiatus while McChrystal’s plan and his requested uplift has been looked at in the detail to which it has been looked at over a period of some months, and we have had the Afghan elections, which have been far from perfect let us say.
“All of those things have mitigated against our ability to show progress… put that on the other side of the scales when we are suffering the kind of losses that we are.”
Britain has 9,000 troops in Afghanistan and has announced it will send another 500, a decision some US officials saw as a move to put pressure on Mr Obama.
Again, it is worth noting that the Obama Administration promised us closer relations with our allies, closer cooperation in the realm of foreign and national security policy, and less American unilateralism. Now, with a key ally plainly angry at the length of time it has taken for the Administration to decide whether to send troops to Afghanistan, and with the Obama Administration unilaterally holding up alliance efforts to salvage Afghanistan, we see just how hollow those promises really were.