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Volume 514: debated on Wednesday 21 July 2010

As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is currently in the United States and will be discussing Afghanistan with President Obama during his visit. Yesterday, as the hon. Gentleman may have seen, they reaffirmed their joint commitment to the existing strategy, reflected on the bravery and shared sacrifice of United Kingdom and United States armed forces in Afghanistan, and agreed that the importance of progress on the political track to complement the military effort was essential.

Is it not time, after nearly 10 years of British deployment in Afghanistan, that the whole strategy should be reconsidered? Last year, 1,000 Afghan people died, and 300 and more British soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan, as have many from other coalition forces. Opinion polls in Afghanistan show declining support for western involvement there. If British troops are going to remain there for another five years, how many more are going to die, how much deeper is the civil war going to get and how much deeper are we going to be involved in conflicts in that region? Is it not time to say that this strategy has run its course and that it is time, now, to withdraw from Afghanistan?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be giving a statement on Afghanistan imminently. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s stance on Afghanistan, but I admire his consistency in arguing his case. It is right that the coalition Government have been crystal clear that we want our troops to come home as soon as possible. We do not want a single British serviceman or servicewoman to spend an extra day more than is necessary in Afghanistan. That is why we have been clear that we will not have soldiers in a combat role in Afghanistan in 2015. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that history teaches us that insurgencies cannot be defeated by military means alone. That is why we are pushing very hard for a new political strategy involving reconciliation and reintegration so that the political strategy and the military strategy are better aligned than has been the case in the past.