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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 15:11 UK time, Wednesday, 12 July 2006

At least seven years - that's how long British and other foreign troops will need to stay in Afghanistan according to Afghan MP Shukria Barakzai, who we spoke to last night.

The World TonightIn contrast over the past few days, the BBC along with other news organisations has also been quoting John Reid, when he was Defence Secretary, saying he would be happy if the troops left the country in three years without firing a shot.

Since the time the deployment was announced back in January, The World Tonight, like other BBC News programmes, has been tracking the British military involvement in southern Afghanistan. One of the first interviews we did on this was with the inestimable military analyst Michael Clarke of Kings College, London, who predicted then that the British army would inevitably get involved in combat with a resurgent Taleban, drug lords and other assorted armed groups, if they went into the region.

As a result of analysis from defence experts like Professor Clarke, there have been constant questions to the Ministry of Defence about various aspects of this intervention. Were enough troops being sent? Did they have the right equipment? Should they have been better prepared for the resistance they've encountered? All valid questions and not necessarily as straightforward as they appear, because when it comes to military decisions there is inevitably a role for politicians to make judgements on the basis of professional military advice and what they think is politically do-able.

But another question has arisen which the government and supportive politicians bristle at, but is being asked by our listeners. Should the government have been more open about the risks being faced by British troops, and should the government have engaged in more of a public debate about the wisdom of this deployment before the final decision was made, partly to gauge public support, but also to prepare public opinion and the media for potentially bad news?

Journalists are often accused of oversimplifying issues like this, but if the troops do end up staying for 7 years, and casualties sadly rise, we will continue to report what's going on - the BBC is one of the few media organisations which permanently bases correspondents in Afghanistan - and these questions will continue to be asked.

Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight


  • 1.
  • At 03:52 PM on 12 Jul 2006,
  • Richard Lancaster wrote:

Since when was this government open and honest about anything it does in our name? We must expect dishonesty as the standard. Sad, but true?

  • 2.
  • At 04:48 PM on 12 Jul 2006,
  • Gareth wrote:

"Should the government engaged in more of a public debate" ? No. We elect a government that we hope will make the right decisions - whether or not they're popular. We can hardly decry the use of focus groups, and complain that the government's following a tabloid agenda, if, at the same time they're not allowed to make decisions without first engaging in public debate. It is particularly important in areas like military deployments in reaction to developing international situations that the government must, on occasion be able to make decisions swiftly, with the approval of our elected representatives but without seeking to enage us all in public consultations. Past governments were rightly condemned for not acting swiftly or deciseivly enough to stop escalating problems in Rwanda, and the Balkans. How much longer would it have been before they could take action if the decision over troop deployments was always a question for public consultation?

  • 3.
  • At 04:59 PM on 12 Jul 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

I agree with Richard Lancaster, I never believe or trust anything this government does. Its just spin non-stop. The government is accountable to nobody - well, appart from once every 4 years...

  • 4.
  • At 07:29 PM on 12 Jul 2006,
  • Vittorio wrote:

Posts like this keep our faith in the news agencies alive. Unluckily, most of the time, news are passed on from governmental sources without journalistic research. Governmental sources lack transparency and provide evidence of part. It is easy for us readers to perceive it is not true, that it stinks. It all results in a lack of trust towards our Governments and a sense of Horwellian world dominating our lives. Thanks to journalists that do their jobs our lifes are restored to freedom and faith that someone still cares.

  • 5.
  • At 07:50 PM on 12 Jul 2006,
  • Costas G Polymeropoulos wrote:

God Help the soldiers and their families...........

  • 6.
  • At 08:08 PM on 12 Jul 2006,
  • Bernardo Gutiérrez wrote:

What you fail to mention is why the press, from the beginning, didn´t ask the questions you refer as being responsibility of the government, in the first place. The kind of information implicitly advocated in your comments is a reactive information, not an "informed" information to the public.

  • 7.
  • At 08:58 PM on 12 Jul 2006,
  • Phil Kruger wrote:

The oxygen terrorism thrives on is publicty,take away the publicity and a major portion of the reason for the spectacular act of terror falls away.
Could it be that the media has wittingly or unwittingly allowed itself to be used by people beyound the pale
(those that use indisciminate violence)
The justification being that it was newsworthy,or worse still the spectacular act draws viewers in this depraved world in which we live.

BBC is doing a very good job by asking right questions about the ground realities in Afghanistan. However, the British government does not want people to know the exact situation in Afghanistan.

  • 9.
  • At 01:21 AM on 13 Jul 2006,
  • Roger Houghton wrote:

You certainly should interview Taleban officials.

The game has changed.

Mr Rumsfeld has just told us of the importance of negotiations and compromise. Its a volte face for a man not noted for consensual opinions and
its a great precedent for talking with all the power centres in Afghanistan.

Go for it.

Time has come for Britain to withdraw her armed forces from Afghanistan as well as from Iraq, as nothing has been achieved in both the places, and the so called Fight against Terror, has only increased attacks by Terrorists against the Innocent people.Both UK and USA, should involve the world body in peacekeeping efforts and withdraw from these countries to save both men and money. The millions spent on this useless and resuless engagements has brought the economies of both the countries to naught, and the same amount can be spent for the social welfare of your people.

  • 11.
  • At 10:21 AM on 14 Jul 2006,
  • Bob Holness wrote:

Interesting that commenters keep referring to the Taliban as terrorists. A country where the 'ruler' critices the tactics of foreign armies in his own country, killing his own people, but can do nothing aboiut it.
I call that occupation, but hey, what do I know.
He also points out that the source of funding, training and succour of the Taliban is a neighbour, and supposed ally of the 'coalition' on the 'war on terror'.
Draw your own conclusions.

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