'Pull UK troops from Afghanistan'

11 February 2011 - 11:00pm
Press release

Charity, unions, arts stars demand justice for Afghan people

The British government today faces new pressure for the immediate withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan and a negotiated settlement which guarantees self-determination, security and human rights for the Afghan people. It comes amid mounting evidence that Afghans are paying a terrible price for the ongoing occupation of their country.

The pressure comes from the anti-poverty charity War on Want, Afghan and British political representatives, leaders of the largest British trade unions, as well as cultural personalities in a letter published by the Guardian. The letter invites readers who support the call to e-mail “yes” to yes@waronwant.org.

Signatories include John Hilary, the charity’s executive director, along with Len McCluskey, general secretary of Britain’s largest union Unite, and his counterparts Dave Prentis (UNISON), Sally Hunt (University and College Union), Jeremy Dear (National Union of Journalists), Mark Serwotka (Public and Commercial Services union), Billy Hayes (Communication Workers’ Union), and Bob Crow (Rail Maritime and Transport union).

Among others are Afghan politician Malalai Joya, British MPs Marsha Singh, Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas, Martin Caton, John McDonnell, Elfyn Llwyd and Paul Flynn, former cabinet minister Tony Benn, human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC, film director Ken Loach, hip-hop musician Lowkey, writer Michael Rosen and peace campaigner Bruce Kent.

The letter also points to opinion polls that consistently show over 70 per cent of British people now support the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan "immediately" or "soon".

War on Want executive director John Hilary said: "US and British forces are engaged in a dirty war, using aerial bombing, drone attacks, torture prisons and corporate mercenaries against the Afghan people. Development aid is being abused in order to pursue military goals and to privatise the Afghan  economy. The government must withdraw troops now and support a political solution under UN auspices, based on Afghans’ self-determination, security and human rights."

The letter marks the 60th anniversary of a Guardian letter, which led to the charity’s foundation, that referred to Britain fighting another war in Asia, in Korea. and called for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict. The 1951 letter, from publisher Victor Gollancz, asked readers who agreed to send him a postcard with the single word "yes". Within a month, 10,000 people had responded and War on Want was born. The letter this morning coincides with the charity launching a report The Great Game: The reality of Britain’s war in Afghanistan.

The report accuses Britain of engaging in a dirty war, using drones - unmanned aerial vehicles, equipped with 500lb laser-guided bombs, and Hellfire missiles - and direct involvement in the US’s illegal detention and torture programme. It reveals Afghanistan has become one of the most militarised countries on earth. Recent years have seen UK suppliers export arms worth £32.5 million to Afghanistan. Alongside the US and British military in Afghanistan is a "shadow army" of private military and security companies. In the three years 2007-09, the UK government spent £62.8 million on such firms.

War on Want says Afghanistan has borne the brunt of decades of foreign intervention and conflict, and as a result is one of the world’s poorest countries, with life expectancy at 44.6 years the lowest anywhere. The report claims that much of US and British aid to Afghanistan has been "militarised", serving military and security interests rather than the interests of the Afghan people.

Besides pressing for immediate withdrawal of British trooops from Afghanistan and a negotiated settlement which guarantees self-determination, security and human rights for the Afghan people, War on Want demands the UK government:

  • ceases aerial bombing and the use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • stops all British involvement in the illegal US detention and torture programme, guaranteeing detainees in Afghanistan access to lawyers and full human rights
  • introduces legally binding regulation for private military and security companies, banning their use in combat situations
  • ends privatisation in Afghanistan in favour of an economic policy dedicated to Afghans’ welfare


Paul Collins
Media officer, War on Want
(+44) (0)20 7324 5054
(+44) (0)7983 550728


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