by PAUL THORNTON
A split in the Government’s Intelligence and Security Committee has emerged– days after its chairman called for troops to be pulled from Afghanistan.
Labour MP for Pontypridd Dr Kim Howells said in an article for The Guardian newspaper earlier this week that “the vast majority” of British troops should now be pulled out of Afghanistan.
Dr Howells, who oversaw Afghanistan as a Foreign Office minister until last year, said the killing of five British troops by an Afghan police officer who they were training had strengthened the case for bringing British troops home early.
He said: “It is time to ask whether the fight against those who are intenton murdering British citizens might better be served by diverting into the work of the UK Border Agency and our police and intelligence services much of the additional finance and resources swallowed up by the costs of maintaining British forces in Afghanistan.”
But shortly after Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a staunch defence of his Government’s policy on Afghanistan yesterday, a Lord’s debate on the issue was to reveal a split in the security committee.
Lord George Foulkes branded claims that British troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan as “plain wrong” and “doubly irresponsible”.
And he said comments were “ill informed, gratuitous and sensational”.
Foulkes, who is MSP for the Lothians region, warned that British forces fighting in Afghanistan are performing vital work and said a withdrawal could lead to further terror attacks.
His stance represents a massive split in the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, which Dr Howells chairs and Lord Foulkes advises.
In a speech, Lord Foulkes was expected to say: “Ill informed, gratuitous and sensational calls for withdrawal serve only to undermine the action of the forces on the ground.
“And they are doubly irresponsible because the critics, with very few exceptions, offer no alternative of how to cope with the terrorist threat.”
He warned that if the work to shut down terror cells in Afghanistan is not followed through, more innocent people will pay with their blood.
He said: “More innocent people will die unless these terror cells are closed. This needs action in both Pakistan, which the government there is undertaking, and Afghanistan, where the UN has this responsibility.
“Our action, as part of the UN force, is now being undermined by the growing criticism, much of which is based on irresponsible and ill-informed coverage in parts of the media.”
And although 229 British service people have lost their lives in the conflict, Lord Foulkes claims they face the danger as part of their duties.
He is expected to say: “Of course, every death of servicemen and women in Afghanistan is tragic, as are deaths on the roads of Scotland, which exceed the deaths in Afghanistan.
“But all those in the UK forces are volunteers who know they face such dangers in the course of their duties.
“Those on the front line are doing a good job, of which they and we should be proud, of defeating the Taliban and training the Afghan police and forces, so they can take over at the appropriate time.”
Lord Foulkes will concede that a debate on deployment is needed but is expected to say he is of a different view to Dr Howells.
He was expected to say: “My good friend and colleague, Dr Kim Howells MP, Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, calls for a debate on our mission in Afghanistan.
“I do not disagree that there should be an informed debate on this but I come firmly to the opposite conclusion.
“I know from the information I have received, in confidence, as a member of the Intelligence and Security committee that our action in Afghanistan is vital and our Dr Howells, is plain wrong.
“Al Quaeda training camps and operational cells are located in the lawless borders areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“From there the terrorists have planned and launched attacks, which have slaughtered innocent people on the streets of London, New York, Dar-es-salaan, Madrid.
“It is so easy to criticise and to undermine current policy and action but much more difficult to come up with alternatives but failure to do so should make these critics think twice before repeating their comments of negativity and despair which threaten the morale of our troops and those of our allies, and give succour to our enemy.”