WHY are our young men dying in Afghanistan? It is a question many are asking after this week’s tragedy which saw six soldiers die in a single explosion – three of them from Huddersfield.
The British death toll in Afghanistan has risen to 404 as politicians and generals shift their focus to extricating UK forces from the troubled country.
More than a decade after Britain and the US launched military operations in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks, the talk in the Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon is of “transition” and “Afghan leadership”.
Afghan soldiers and police are increasingly taking the lead on operations, but UK troops serving in southern Helmand province still face dangers every time they leave their bases.
As the latest families received the knock on the door they had been dreading, the end of the drawn-out war is in sight.
Prof Paul Rogers, the Huddersfield peace expert, believes the troops still have enormous public support.
The Kirkburton man, who works at the University of Bradford’s peace studies department, said: “There is angst and opposition to the war but nothing but support for the troops.
“The soldiers who are on the ground are held in high regard by the British public.
“The UK Government has made it clear our military presence in Afghanistan will end in 2014, although it is terribly difficult to say that in a week when we have seen young soldiers die.
“Essentially, British troops are there to support America. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, George Bush declared that the Taliban regime had to be terminated. Tony Blair was in full support and committed our troops to support the initiative.
“In the initial stages it looked as though the Taliban and Al Qaeda had been dispersed but the Afghan authorities were not sufficiently equipped to take on responsibilities and in 2006 the Taliban started coming back.
“Now my view is that there is no direct threat to Britain from Afghanistan. There are no Al Qaeda strongholds there and I believe the more serious threat comes from groups in West Pakistan.
“But the view is that Afghanistan must be sufficiently stabilised before the troops can come out completely.
“There will have to be a compromise and the Taliban will have a role in future government. Both the US and the UK have committed to withdrawal but it will not be rushed”.