The leaders of Britain's most prominent political parties have been criticised for avoiding the issue of Afghanistan during the general election campaign, despite strong public support for the withdrawal of UK troops.
A poll published today reveals over three-quarters (77 per cent) of voters support a phased withdrawal resulting in all troops leaving within “a year or so”. Only 15 per cent are sure they want the troops to remain.
The poll, carried out by ComRes for the Independent on Sunday, also found 51 per cent agreeing that “the threat of terrorism on British soil is increased by British forces remaining in Afghanistan”. Just over a third (36 per cent) disagreed.
The statistics suggest that Britain's most prominent politicians are out of step with public opinion. The Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties all oppose military withdrawal from Afghanistan in the immediate future.
The Independent on Sunday's editorial today (18 April) heavily criticised the main party leaders, insisting that “one of the central questions of foreign policy is in danger of passing through an election campaign by default”.
The editorial lamented the lack of meaningful discussion of Afghanistan in the televised “leaders' debate” on Thursday (15 April). It pointed out that “the exchanges between the leaders focused on helicopters – or, in Nick Clegg's case, 'proper helicopters' - and on Mr Brown's semantic argument that he had never refused a request for an 'urgent operational requirement' from the army”.
Tory Leader David Cameron has accused the government of failing to provide UK troops in Afghanistan with effective equipment, while strongly defending their presence in the country and supporting the US-led war there.
But the poll found only 37 per cent agreeing that “David Cameron would handle the issue of Afghanistan better than Gordon Brown has done”, with 41 per cent disagreeing.
The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is supported by the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Socialist Party, none of whom have been allowed to participate in the UK-wide Leaders' Debates.
The Leaders' Debate on Thursday (22 April) will focus on foreign policy, meaning that Afghanistan will almost certainly come up again.