The surge in British deaths in Afghanistan has stoked the debate about the mission, and whether there is still the political will to continue. Five soldiers from one unit died yesterday when their foot patrol was hit by two bombs. It took the number of British victims in Afghanistan to 184, five more than the total number of fatalities in Iraq.
The rising number of deaths has sparked claims that UK troops are underfunded and ill-equipped. Prime Minister Gordon Brown refutes that, but is accused of devaluing defence since Labour came to office in 1997. “Some would argue it is a vital national interest, because we fight there to avoid fighting on the streets in this country,” said retired British Army Colonel Bob Stewart. “I have never seen a national interest defended with so few resources as our troops are getting on the ground in Afghanistan.” British fatalities have risen in part because of the recent offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province. Public opinion in Britain remains behind the soldiers for the time being. But questions over equipment and funding refuse to go away, with the government under increasing attack from its political foes back home.