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Britain irked at being left out of Afghan action

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th November 2001 03:00 AM

Cabinet Minister Clare Short openly criticised the U.S. last week

Cabinet Minister Clare Short openly criticised the U.S. last week

Britain is largely out of the Afghan loop, and the campaign on the ground is now an operation conducted almost solely by the United States, to the chagrin of most commentators from both the left and the right. “British troops stand down as the Americans storm in,” the staunchly patriotic Daily Mail said on Tuesday in a tone of wounded pride. The tabloid called the turn of events “an embarrassment” for Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. As U.S. marines were deploying in force near Kandahar and President George Bush was uttering unspecified warnings to Iraq, Britain was returning to normal duties the troops it had placed on 48-hour standby to fly to Afghanistan. The troops had been intended as part of a multi-national stabilisation force promoted by Britain but held back in the face of a lack of U.S. enthusiasm and outright opposition from the Northern Alliance, the British Broadcasting Corporation noted. As recently as Sunday, the Telegraph reported British paratroopers were set to go into Kandahar to flush out the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. “Paras on alert for storming Kandahar - Allies plan joint force of 25,000 to crush Taliban in their last stronghold,” the conservative broadsheet headlined on its front page. By Tuesday it was reduced to reporting on its inside pages: “The (U.S.) marines go in.” On the right of the political spectrum, commentators are regretting that British troops will not be able to show their mettle. Last week they reported intense rivalry between U.S. and British special forces units in Afghanistan and predicted Britain’s SAS would be the first to get bin Laden. But on the left concerns are rather that the humanitarian aspect of the campaign is now firmly on the back burner and likely to stay there. The news that a Russian team, complete with military equipment, was establishing a presence in Kabul did nothing to dispel these fears. Blair has a perpetual problem with the left wing of the Labour Party when it comes to waging war. Several members are dedicated pacificists, reflecting a strong tradition in the party. Cabinet member Clare Short openly criticised the U.S. last week, saying communications between the U.S. military and civilian relief operations were “not being taken seriously enough at a high level”. She also accused the U.S. of turning its back on world poverty. And she urged the rapid deployment of an international stabilisation force, headed by the 6,000 British troops then on standby, to create the order for aid organisations to do their work. “We need order in order to get a proper humanitarian response. We haven’t got a crisis yet, but if there was a big delay and a lot of disorder, then we could get a terrible amount of human suffering,” she told a parliamentary committee. British hopes are now focussed on the talks between Afghan leaders in Bonn, with the British representative in Kabul, Stephen Evans, saying lamely on Tuesday that it was “important” that the U.N.-sponsored negotiations were “taking place at all”. Evans expressed the hope to the BBC that there would be a “follow- up meeting somewhere”, adding it should be a “larger meeting” including eastern and southern Pashtun representatives. The Telegraph took a different tack. “Western hopes of an agreement are set too high,” it said, quoting Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Abdullah told the newspaper the most that could be hoped for was a “set of principles” for forming a transitional government, rather than such a government itself. British commentators are universally sceptical of the Northern Alliance and Afghan leadership in general. And Abdullah’s clear statements that he did not want foreign troops in Afghanistan, made earlier this month in response to the presence of upwards of 100 crack British troops at Bagram airport near Kabul, has done nothing to allay those doubts. dpa

Britain irked at being left out of Afghan action

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