UK lawmakers say Britain should abandon its Afghan drugs mission, slam Bush-era policies there

By Raphael G. Satter, AP
Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lawmakers urge UK to drop Afghan drugs mission

LONDON — Britain should abandon its anti-drug role in Afghanistan and focus on securing the country against the Taliban insurgency, a prominent group of U.K. lawmakers said Sunday.

Britain, along with the United States, is one of the leading contributors to the international campaign to eradicate Afghanistan’s opium crop. But nearly 160 million pounds ($267 million) were spent on its counter-narcotics role between 2004 and 2008, to little effect.

The U.K. also supplies the second-highest number of troops to NATO’s military campaign against the Taliban. Its 9,000-strong contingent has taken heavy casualties in the past month.

Lawmakers on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee say Britain does not have the resources to shoulder both burdens at once.

“We recommend that in the immediate future the government should refocus its efforts to concentrate its limited resources on one priority, namely security,” the committee said in a published report.

Questions about Britain’s role in Afghanistan have come to the fore as U.K. and U.S. forces take the offensive against a resurgent Taliban, sparking intense fighting.

The British military suffered 22 fatalities in July, its bloodiest month since the invasion of Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. July was also the deadliest month for U.S. forces there.

Britain’s political opposition has accused the government of sending troops into combat without proper equipment and air support. Others have questioned whether the U.K. even belongs in Afghanistan at all.

The Foreign Affairs Committee said there could be “no question” of abandoning Afghanistan. Its chairman, Mike Gapes, said the international community needed to show “that it intends to outlast the insurgency and remain in Afghanistan until the Afghan authorities are able take control of their own security.”

But the report said the international effort to put Afghanistan back on its feet had faltered.

Progress on police reform has been “disappointingly slow,” the effort to create an independent judiciary was a failure and there has been “virtually no tangible progress” on tackling corruption, according to the report.

Lawmakers also had some harsh words for what they called the “unilateralist tendencies” of the U.S. under George W. Bush.

“Some, though certainly not all, of the responsibility for problems in Afghanistan since 2001 must be attributed to the direction of U.S. policy in the years immediately after the military intervention,” the report said, explaining that the Bush administration’s “focus on military goals to the exclusion of many other strategically important issues set the tone for the international community’s early presence in Afghanistan.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee is made up of 14 lawmakers drawn from Britain’s three major parties. Although its recommendations are not binding, they are generally taken into account by policy-makers.

Britain’s foreign ministry said it welcomed the report and would study it closely before submitting a response to lawmakers in the coming months.

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