Britons Divided On Afghan War Participation

President Obama is reconsidering U.S. strategy in the Afghan War. NATO allies have a major role in this fight and Washington has been asking them to contribute more. In Britain, public opinion on the Afghan war is not as clear cut as it was in opposition to the Iraq War. There are plenty of people saying the job must be finished, while others think it's a war the allies can't win.

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President Obama is now facing a set of choices on how to pursue the war in Afghanistan, from sending in tens of thousands more troops, to staging a major withdrawal, to taking a path somewhere in between. Whatever the president decides is going to affect America's NATO allies. Dozens of nations have thousands of troops in Afghanistan, and Washington has been asking NATO to contribute still more. To get a sense of their thinking at this pivotal moment, we have three reports. The first is from NPR's Rob Gifford in London.

ROB GIFFORD: For the people of Britain, there's been plenty of bad news out of Afghanistan recently. The bloodiest summer yet for British forces there, more complaints about poor military equipment, plus all the problems of the Afghan election. And hanging over everything for the British is one word: history. An op-ed in The Times of London last week began with these stark words: Make no mistake, the British Army is in the process of losing its fourth Afghan war.

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GIFFORD: You won't see anything here in London's Parliament Square to commemorate the first three Afghan wars fought by British troops between 1839 and 1919. That's because the Afghans won. Afghanistan was Victorian Britain's Vietnam. But you can a see a large statue of Lord Palmerston here beside me, whose policies precipitated the Afghan wars. And just across from him, a statue of Robert Peel, who called Palmerston's venturing into Afghanistan the most absurd and insane project that was ever undertaken in the wantonness of power. The problem for current prime minister Gordon Brown is that many ordinary British people today are starting to feel that way.

Mr. DAVE GARDNER(ph) (IT Worker): I think we should do our best in getting out of there as soon as possible.

GIFFORD: Just around the corner from Parliament Square, Dave Gardner, a 33-year-old IT worker, is having a cigarette break outside his office.

Mr. GARDNER: I don't think we're making the situation better, and I don't think there is an end to a war. I think it is a war that we can't win, the same as Vietnam.

GIFFORD: While many Britons share Gardner's views, there are plenty of people saying the job must be finished, like development worker Jo Raisen(ph) on her way to work.

Ms. JO RAISEN: I think it would be worse to pull out at this point. We went in there, and I think it would be the wrong decision to pull out without more considered phased withdrawal, and I do think we have a responsibility for reconstruction and development.

GIFFORD: President Obama's delay in sending extra U.S. troops to Afghanistan has made America's allies pause as well, says Rosemary Hollis of London's City University.

Dr. ROSEMARY HOLLIS (London's City University): If the lead voice calls for more troops, you try to do what you can to deploy them. But in this particular instance, the British are wondering whether they're sacrificing their men for a cause that even the Americans have given up on now.

GIFFORD: A change of government in Britain after next spring's general election could give London a chance to change tack, but whoever's in power will likely have trouble maintaining the support of the British public.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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