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'British Govt did not do enough for troops'

world Updated: Jul 31, 2009 07:38 IST
AFP
'British Govt did not do enough for troops'

The British government did not do enough to support frontline troops in the first years of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the defence minister said in an interview published Friday.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said service personnel had been justified in their anger at a lack of interest in their efforts, from both the government and the wider public, in the early stages of the conflicts.

But Ainsworth also told the Daily Telegraph that improvements had been made over the last two years to recognise and support the armed services.

"People were pretty cheesed off with the attitude not only of the government, but of the British public," he said.

"They (troops) were out there in Iraq, they were out there in Afghanistan, they were doing hard yards and putting their lives on the line - and nobody back here was nearly as interested as they ought to have been."

The comments come after the Ministry of Defence confirmed Thursday that troops in Afghanistan had suffered their highest casualty rate since the US-led invasion of the country in 2001, in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The surge in deaths has sparked a political row over resources for troops in Afghanistan, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown forced to defend Britain's strategy after calls for more equipment and more boots on the ground.

Twenty-two British soldiers were killed in July fighting Taliban insurgents in the southern Helmand province, in an escalation of violence ahead of presidential and local elections on August 20.

Earlier this week an opinion poll indicated that more than half of Britons think military forces in Afghanistan cannot win and troops should be withdrawn immediately.

Another poll published Friday showed 15 percent believe the conflict is just and worth the loss of British soldiers, compared to 50 percent who think the cause is justified but not worth British deaths.

The YouGov poll for the Daily Telegrapgh newspaper said most people agree with calls from military experts for more resources to fight the conflict.

The survey polled 2,334 voters online between July 28-30.

Ainsworth predicted the defence portfolio would take a higher profile in future. "We are going to wind up with a real debate on defence. It has not necessarily had a high enough profile," he said.

"We have tended in politics in this country to concentrate on the domestic, on the here and now - the 'what's in it for me'."

Britain must hold a general election by the middle of next year, which the embattled ruling Labour party, in power since 1997, is widely tipped to lose to the main opposition Conservatives.

Ainsworth, who was promoted to the top defence post in a June cabinet reshuffle after the resignation of his predecessor, also rejected comments from critics that he was not up to the job, saying he was qualified.