From: Biniam Haile \(SWE\) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri Jan 15 2010 - 08:12:14 EST
UK should stop policing the world, says Howells
By Nigel Morris, Deputy Political Editor
Friday, 15 January 2010
Britain should give up trying to punch above its weight internationally
and stop routinely deploying troops to world trouble spots, the chairman
of the parliamentary committee that oversees the intelligence services
Kim Howells told The Independent that the succession of British deaths
in Afghanistan proved the time had come to abandon the pretence that the
UK could be at "the very, very sharp end" of United Nations military
Mr Howells, a former Foreign Office minister, called for a fundamental
rethink of the nation's place on the world stage.
He argued that the energy and resources used on fighting distant wars
should be channelled instead into tackling security threats directly
Mr Howells, who is retiring as an MP at the election, said: "I think we
believe we have a bigger punch than we have and a lot of that rests on
the superb professionalism of the armed forces.
"When the UN needs a force that's actually going to do the business,
they look to the Americans and the British. They don't look to other
He said: "We've always regarded ourselves, with justification, of being
one of those nations riding on-point for the United Nations.
"So when there have been big problem - Sierra Leone, Bosnia - it's our
troops who have been there at the very, very sharp end, in places of
great danger. It can't continue."
He said the heavy price paid by UK forces was being reinforced weekly by
the "extraordinary images" at Wootton Bassett whenever the bodies of
soldiers killed in Afghanistan were flown home. "The public appreciate
those ceremonies - they want the dead honoured, but they feel
increasingly dubious about sending our troops on these missions.
"The more the reality of those casualties and the awful injuries is made
available to the public, the more doubt there is about the wisdom of
sending our troops to distant places with all of those risks."
Mr Howells, who has already called for Britain's withdrawal from
Afghanistan, said: "I'm very worried we're concentrating on only one
thing and that's defeating the Taliban in Helmand province, which is
only one part of Afghanistan.
"We have to be realistic and take cognisance of the fact that terrorists
won't limit themselves to particular areas - they will look for safe
ground wherever it can be found."
He said he did not understand Barack Obama's tactics in dispatching
30,000 US troops as reinforcements to Afghanistan and feared the US
President was simply "hoping for the best".
Mr Howells said: "It is said you have got to have a minimum of 500,000
combat troops if you are really going to police the country. A surge of
30,000 extra is going to be nothing like that."
The former minister said he stood by the decision to invade Iraq in
2003, but believed it should mark a turning-point in British military
He said the Iraq war demonstrated that most of Nato "were not prepared
to put their troops in harm's way" and he saw no sign of that changing
in future world crises.
He took a swipe at the Chilcot inquiry into the war as a "public
spectacle" that served little practical purpose.
"We are obsessed in this country with inquiries. They cost an enormous
amount - at the end, very few people believe the reports because people
tend to continue clinging to whatever belief they had before the inquiry
Mr Howells, who has chaired the Intelligence and Security Committee
since 2008, echoed the Prime Minister's warning that the terrorist
threat is "constantly evolving". He added: "Their ability to radicalise
and inspire highly educated people is extremely worrying."
He said he was not a "great enthusiast" for the controversial technique
of "profiling" air travellers in efforts to thwart terrorists.
"As we look at terrorist incidents around the world, it's frequently
those people who are not archetypal - they will use converts for example
who look different. They do these things very cleverly."
He also called for sweeping reform of the United Nations which he said
had a "pretty hopeless record" in peace-building, preventing war and
tackling human rights abuses.
Troops from Recce Platoon, 3 Rifles Battlegroup, on patrol in Helmand
province yesterday. But a former minister says Britain is paying too
high a price
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