Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg’s response to the Prime Minister’s statement on Afghanistan:
I join the Prime Minister in recognising and commending the enormously impressive work of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan.
Finally it has become mainstream to talk about the need for a big shift in strategy in Afghanistan.
When I first questioned the effectiveness of our action there six months ago and called for this kind of step-change, I was told it was unpatriotic.
The Prime Minister’s change of tone since then has been dramatic – and welcome.
The Liberal Democrat approach to Afghanistan has always been simple: we should do this properly or not at all.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me that success is not just about troop numbers?
And that focusing on troop numbers to the exclusion of all else is like putting the cart before the horse.
There is no point sending a single extra soldier unless the strategy they need to succeed in their mission is in place.
So why is the Prime Minister making any announcements at all about troop numbers when we won’t know until President Obama’s announcement tomorrow what the new strategy is, and what chances it has of success?
I have in the past criticised the Prime Minister for keeping quiet over Afghanistan, failing to speak out in support of our troops and their mission.
Has he not now swung a little too far in the opposite direction, making an announcement before we know whether things are in place which will make it a success or not?
We know from previous successful peacekeeping missions, such as in the Balkans, that you will not succeed unless you have buy-in from all the big regional powers.
In Afghanistan that does not just mean Pakistan, China and Russia – it also means Iran, which is now at loggerheads with the West over its unacceptable announcement of ten new nuclear facilities.
Can the Prime Minister tell us how he will find a way to take a tough stance with Iran while seeking to keep them engaged in securing peace in Afghanistan?
A centrepiece of the Prime Minister’s announcement today was his benchmark-setting for President Karzai on training the Afghan National Army.
But what is the alternative if Karzai doesn’t achieve these benchmarks?
What efforts are he and others in the alliance making to develop a Plan B of bypassing the government in Kabul and dealing direct with local and regional government?
Surely the Prime Minister agrees that, given Karzai’s record, in particular on corruption, we shouldn’t hold our breath for him to change, but work on finding ways to succeed without him if he will not.
Finally, let me address the issue of troop deployments from our NATO allies.
The Prime Minister himself said that the deployment of extra British troops would be conditional on other countries sharing the burden.
So will he now be clear and detailed in setting out what he expects:
Which countries are offering troops? When will they arrive in Afghanistan? And what will their role be on the ground?
Since our troops first stepped into Afghanistan, the Government strategy has been over-ambitious in aim and under-resourced in practice.
I hope today’s announcement and the one that will follow tomorrow from President Obama finally turn the situation around.
So that finally our troops have what they need for success and can come home as soon as possible with their heads held high.