War with Taliban 'could last for years' warns defence chief


Last updated at 00:23 26 October 2007

British troops could remain in Afghanistan for "decades", the head of the Armed Forces warned yesterday.

And even then the conflict will only be resolved by a political deal - after talks with Taliban leaders, said Sir Jock Stirrup.

In an interview, the Chief of Defence Staff said: 'In terms of bringing Afghanistan into its rightful place in the 21st century, that is an enormous project, that will engage the international community, frankly, for decades.

"There is a common misperception that the issues in Afghanistan, and indeed elsewhere around the world, can be dealt with by military means.

"That's a false perception. The military is a key, an essential element in dealing with those problems, but by and large these problems can only be resolved politically."

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British soldiers Afghanistan

Sir Jock said there was a need to talk to people who "may well have been Taliban in the past", adding: " I don't think we should focus too much on what people were in the past. But I think we should focus on what they are today and will be tomorrow."

Sir Jock also gave his views on homecoming parades for servicemen returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, saying that while he is in "no doubt" that the British public values its armed forces, that appreciation should be "expressed a little more than it is."

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Prime Minister Gordon Brown (L) walks with Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup, Chief of the Defence Staff

At last month's Labour conference, Defence Secretary Des Browne also raised the prospect of "talking to the Taliban".

Britain has lost 82 soldiers in Afghanistan and 7,700 remain in action there.

Nato countries have been asked to bolster the military presence as the force is at only 90-95 per cent of its intended strength and needs more helicopters, transport aircraft and rapid deployment troops.

There are fears that more British troops will be sent to the southern Helmand region after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said earlier this month 1,000 soldiers would leave Iraq by the end of the year.

hamid karzai in oxford

Echoing Sir Jock's comments, Mr Brown said: "We know that the long-term solutions are not simply defence and security. We are determined to work with the Afghan government to make sure the people have a stake in the future of Afghanistan."

After talks with Afghanistan's Prime Minister Hamid Karzai in Downing Street yesterday, he added: "We continue to make our contribution and I want to praise the bravery and courage of our forces in Afghanistan.

"I firmly believe that burden sharing has got to become very much part of our strategy in Afghanistan in the future.

Mr Brown added: "We know that there are other countries prepared to do more. We know also there are means by which burden sharing can happen, but the military effort must be complemented by the diplomatic effort and the development work that's being done."

British commanders on the ground have been pleading for more back-up since Britain's Nato allies refused to offer more military support in Afghanistan.

Mr Karzai said: "Burden sharing is necessary if we are to succeed against terror. Is it time to leave Afghanistan? No.

Is it time to add more responsibility to the Afghan people? Yes."

The Speaker of the Afghan Senate, Sebghatollah Mojaddedi, last night accused British forces of surrendering Helmand to the Taliban.

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Troops in Afghanistan

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