The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has expressed deep concern about the plight of British service personnel in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
His public anxieties come amid concerns expressed both by military analysts and peace campaigners that the war strategy there is wrong and is failing.
The British government has been embarrassed by the continuing row over the level of equipment given to UK troops, particularly helicopters and armoured cars.
But it is also relieved that this has detracted many people from asking deeper questions about the propriety of the 'mission'.
However, a recent opinion poll showed that a majority of the public still oppose Britain's role in Afghanistan, in spite of a propaganda offensive by the Ministry of Defence.
The Anglican archbishop said earlier this week: “My first feelings are of desperate concern for the welfare of the servicemen and women over there – and of course for their families."
He added: “Like so many people, I have friends and contacts in the country – and I have friends whose sons are serving in the forces. My thoughts and prayers are with all of them.”
Dr Williams has been a sceptic about recent British military interventions, and is a strong advocate of peacemaking - though also someone who accepts the 'just war' theory that the churches developed to rationalise their accommodation with states and rulers after the pacifist commitments of early Christian communities were abandoned.
Increasing numbers of Christians, both in the inherited and 'emerging' churches are moving towards the priority of non-violence in a world of religiously aggravated conflict.
But the Church of England's involvement with the military runs deep and it has shown less enthusiasm for investing in 'unarmed forces' (those seeking to address conflict without guns and contracts) than it has in providing chaplaincy to armed forces.
Of Afghanistan, Dr Williams said: “We have got to go on trying our best to support a representative government there – that’s the hard core of it.”
He did not comment directly on military intervention by the West.
The Archbishop has often become involved in social and political issues. While chaplain of Clare College, Cambridge, he took part in anti-nuclear demonstrations at United States bases.
Also on Ekklesia 'Time for a bishop for unarmed forces' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9942
Reflections from an Anglican military chaplain: http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9955