There are several different debates going on about the war.
There is the question of whether our troops have the right equipment and numbers. Whatever the government may say, it seems clear that the coalition as a whole needs more troops and we need better equipped troops to do the job. Too many lives have been placed in danger owing to the lack of cover,support, helicopters and properly armoured road transport. The Americans have now reinforced the position with their own personnel. The UK needs to speed up the supply of additional air cover, air lift, and properly armoured vehicles to help UK troops in difficult and dangerous terrain.
This morning I hear the question being debated whether our troops are too young. The front line troops are on average in their early 20s, well trained and fit. They are volunteers for army life and many of them want to be on active service. This is not the issue.
There is no doubting their resolve, skill and bravery. All political parties are united in praising how well they carry out difficult orders in a large and hostile territory.
The issue is not even whether the aims of the campaign are worthwhile. Again, political parties and most people in the UK are united in thinking it would be good to bring peace and greater prosperity to Afghanistan. Most are proud of troops who free a community from terrorism, or who keep open a school that allows young women to be educated, or who provide sufficient security for a democratic government to govern.
The central issue is can we achieve all that we would like? What will the cost be in lives lost and injuries sustained? For how long will the legitimate civilian power in that country want foreign troops to help it? What is the exit strategy?
We have been there for a long time. The fighting is more intense now than at many times in the past. Why can’t the government address these questions? The country needs some reassurance not that the cause is just or our troops are brave, but reassurance that it knows how and when to get out, leaving Afghanistan a better place.
We need an exit strategy and we need it soon.