Clegg in Afghanistan

by Peter Wozniak

The tide of the conflict in Afghanistan has turned in favour of coalition forces, Nick Clegg has said on a surprise visit to Helmand province.

The trip – shrouded in secrecy because of revelations that the Taliban had attempted to assassinate David Cameron on his last trip to the country – was used by Mr Clegg to portray a positive image of the progression of the war.

Mr Clegg reiterated the government’s commitment to remove UK troops from a combat role in Afghanistan by 2015, though he did not demonstrate in detail how this would be achieved.

The Liberal Democrat leader said: “We hear so much bad news… But what I have seen today is a complete transformation of the military effort that I first saw when I visited two years ago.

“Now you’ve got people laying down their arms and actually wanting to participate in a peaceful life in central Helmand. That is a dramatic, dramatic change.”

Mr Clegg spent Monday night and Tuesday visiting British-funded reconstruction projects and addressed British troops in Camp Bastion, Helmand province.

The visit comes amid concern over funding for the armed forces given the heavy strains on the public finances, though Mr Clegg was keen to stress that funding for front line forces would be preserved.

The deputy prime minister concluded: “So I think, yes, of course there are risks, we’ve got no idea exactly how and when we will succeed but are we turning a corner?

“I think we are militarily and if we can now get the politics right, get the training right and the partnership with the Afghan police and army, I think we can succeed.”

The coalition government has made the promise of withdrawing troops from a combat role by 2015 with a view to ending Britain’s involvement in the unpopular war before the scheduled date of the next general election.