By William Maclean, Security Correspondent GENEVA, Sept 11 (Reuters) - British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said on Saturday that Britain’s “battle against terrorism” in Afghanistan was not the end of the global struggle, and the country must be prepared to act elsewhere in future.
Speaking to a meeting of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank, Fox said pulling British troops from Afghanistan before 2015 would boost militants everywhere, because only by then would British forces, working with the U.S.-led coalition, have achieved their security aims.
Fox told the gathering in Geneva of military officers and strategists that British defence planners conducting a review of military priorities had to take account of the possibility that its forces might have to intervene again elsewhere in the world.
“We’re going to have a long-term battle against transnational terrorism and it will pop up in a lot of different places over a long period and we are going to have to face up to that,” he said.
One of the lessons of recent British defence history, he added, was that combat troops should not be deployed unless authorities were willing to give them the resources to carry out their work.
“That’s one of the things we are grappling with in the new defence review in the UK because this will not be the last time, I would venture to guess, that we might be faced with such a situation.”
There was a diminished appetite for intervention globally, but often war was not something countries had any choice about.
“No one would imagine the U.S. would have gone into Afghanistan... (but) a couple of hours in Manhattan changed things,” he said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“While we can’t move to a posture that is heavily weighted towards intervention to the exent that we are in Afghanistan, nor can we move to a ‘fortress Britain’.. We need to maintain a balanced posture.”
Kabul’s own army and police would be sufficiently trained to assume adequate national security responsibility only in 2015, Fox said.
“If we were to leave before 2015, a point at which on current progress we expect to have achieved our security aims, it would be a shot in the arm to violent jihadists everywhere, re-energising violent radical and extremist Islamists,” he said.
“It would send a signal that we did not have the moral resolve and the political fortitude to see through what we ourselves have described as national security imperative.”
Fox’s remarks on the timing of a withdrawal are in line with those of Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Minister William Hague. But the tone of his remarks, and his reference to the possibility of future interventions, suggest a more accepting approach towards armed missions overseas.
Concerns about the expensive NATO-led Afghan mission have mounted as governments slash spending to rein in budget deficits, and as the death toll has risen. June was the deadliest month for foreign troops in the nine-year conflict.
Britain has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan.
Cameron and Hague appear to be urging a more definite timeline for withdrawal than Fox has done, commentators have said, prompting media speculation of a division over strategy. Ministers have denied any split.
Editing by Michael Roddy