Politics.co.uk Blog

Monday, 30 November 2009

Don't mention the special forces

Usually politicians are keen on round numbers. £100,000 of funding here, 250 new hospitals there. But there are some occasions when the 99p approach is more appropriate.

Gordon Brown's statement on Afghanistan is one such occasion. Britain has 9,500 troops now committed to the country, we were told. That much-vaunted figure has in fact been the subject of two statements, not one, for today was merely a confirmation of the figure initially proposed last month. It's certainly sticking in the headlines.

But it's not quite true, is it? In fact the total number of British forces is slightly higher. So high our troop levels have increased from a four-figure to a five-figure amount.

"For understandable reasons of operational security, we shall continue to withhold
information about their deployment and the nature of activities of our special forces," Brown said.

"I believe the British people have a right to know and deserve the assurance that our highly professional widely respected and extraordinarily brave special forces are playing their full role not only in force protection but in taking the fight directly to the Taleban, working in theatre alongside our regular forces. And I want the whole country to pay tribute to them.

"Taking into account these special forces, their supporting troops and the increases announced today our total military effort in Afghanistan will be in excess of 10,000 troops."

Today's statement shows Brown's commitment to Afghanistan - but also his nervousness about public sensitivities towards the struggle against the Taliban.

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