THE human cost of the war in Afghanistan was brought home to people in the Colne Valley when Golcar man L/Cpl Graham Shaw was killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand province two months ago. BARRY GIBSON asks election candidates in the constituency where they stand on the highly-divisive conflict.
CONSERVATIVE hopeful Jason McCartney knows all about dangerous missions in a foreign land. The Tory Colne Valley candidate served in the RAF for nine years, including deploying inside Iraq between the two Gulf wars.
“I flew into Iraq in an American Hawk helicopter in 1995,” he said. “We stayed in a village called Zakho and asked the people what medical supplies they needed.
“One of the reasons I opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq was because we had Saddam Hussein like a caged animal with the no-fly zones. There was no need to invade, he had no great military capability.”
But Mr McCartney, who left the RAF in 1997, supports the war in Afghanistan.
“It’s a completely separate issue to Iraq,” he said. “We went into Afghanistan because there was a terrorist base there where the atrocity in New York was masterminded.
“As an ex-military man, it saddens me that so many of our troops are being maimed and killed. But it’s amazing how much people in the military believe in this mission.”
Mr McCartney believes British soldiers should stay in the country until the Afghan police and army are able to take over – a stance shared by Labour Colne Valley candidate Debbie Abrahams.
“We need to build the capacity of the Afghan police and defence forces before we withdraw,” she said. “I wish it could be weeks or months, but it’s more likely to be years before the country can defend itself.”
Mrs Abrahams thinks the war is justified. She said: “This came about because of 9/11. Now that our troops are there we need to give them 100% support. Anything else would be unfair to the memories of the soldiers who have died.”
The Labour candidate believes staying in Afghanistan is one part of a three-part plan to reduce the threat of terrorism on Britain’s streets. She said: “We need to work on international development funding and push for a solution to the Palestine issue.”
Clr Nicola Turner, who is contesting Colne Valley for the Lib Dems, wants British troops to withdraw from Afghanistan within the next five years.
She said: “We would like to make sure our troops are home within the next Parliament. We need to ensure there’s a legitimate government in place which tackles corruption.”
But Clr Turner thinks the Western presence has little support among the Afghan people. She said: “The Eastern world seems to think that the American and British march in and try to sort out their problems. They are resentful.”
The Lib Dem believes Britain will have to negotiate with elements of the Taliban. She said: “We shouldn’t be talking to Osama Bin Laden, but we should be talking to moderates. At one time no-one wanted to talk to the IRA, but that’s all gone now.”
The Afghanistan War has little support among the smaller parties contesting the Colne Valley seat.
Clr Jackie Grunsell of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition said: “To claim we are a peacekeeping force when hundreds are dying every day is ridiculous. We’re a recruiting sergeant for the Taliban because we’re seen as an occupying force.”
Clr Grunsell believes the British presence in Afghanistan makes terrorist attacks here more, not less, likely.
“We should withdraw because our presence there isn’t helping,” she said. “We’ve exacerbated the situation and we’re more open to being victims of terror attacks by staying there.”
Barry Fowler of the BNP also opposes the war.
“Our policy is to seek withdrawal at the earliest opportunity,” he said. “I don’t think the place is worth the life of one of our soldiers. It wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference if we were there 200 years, they have to sort it out among themselves.
“We’re running round the world trying to introduce democracy. We should mind our own business.”
Chas Ball of the Greens wants British troops to withdraw.
He said: “We were never in favour of this in the first place and we want to see a pull-out. There needs to be regional involvement in rebuilding the security of Afghanistan and Pakistan because we’re making the situation worse by being there.”
Mr Ball added: “The United Nations needs to broker an international solution. We bring with us the baggage of our policies in Iraq and Palestine/Israel.”
Melanie Roberts of the United Kingdom Independence Party believes the war is being poorly managed.
She said: “We need a better set-up for the troops there because there are a lot of problems with the way the war is being managed. We need to reappraise the operations in Afghanistan into a single mission. If that isn’t possible, we should be looking for a negotiated exit.”