An interview by John Hutton, then Minister of Defence, with Sarah Montague on BBC Radio 4, "Today".

11/11/2008 @ 07:50.

Montague: John Hutton is giving his first major speech as Defence Secretary today, Armistice Day, and he'll use it to justify why British troops are in Afghanistan, and why they need to stay there.  It's for an event organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, called, "Afghanistan - Worth the Sacrifice."  Well, the Defence Secretary is here in the studio.  Good morning.
Hutton: Good morning.
Montague: When we remember those who died in WWI and WWII we can clearly understand the purpose for which they died.  Do you agree that it's much harder to see why British soldiers should be prepared to sacrifice their life in Afghanistan, as 122 of them have done?
Hutton: Yes, I think it probably is harder, and that's why I've decided to make this speech at this moment on this day.  We went into Afghanistan and, I'm very keen for people to remember this, in defence of our vital national security interest here in the UK;  we can all remember, I hope, what the risk to the UK and our friends and allies was when Afghanistan was run by the Taliban, where Al Quaeda had free reign to vent their fury and hatred of the West and the values that we represent;  and if that were to happen again - if the Taliban were to take control in Afghanistan and Al Quaeda come back - we would have to deal with the consequences of that international terrorism, not in Afghanistan but here in London, in Birmingham, in Glasgow, in Cardiff - every major city around the world.  So it's a vital national interest;  and I think in one sense, Sarah, it's the same significance of the invasion of Belgium in 1914, and the invasion of Poland in 1939 - the risk to our security, to our people is clear;  and that is why we have to deal with it.  Now it's an incredibly difficult conflict, it's not like conflicts of previous years:  there's no front line, there's no clear lines on a map that we can follow and study at home as our troops make gains, or whatever.  It's a conflict within a community that we're trying to intercede in, and to make a difference in;  and to succeed in Afghanistan it will have various elements:  it'll have a military component because it has to be more security - greater security - in Afghanistan to tackle the insurgency;  but there has to be political and economic development as well, and that's why this conflict is a complicated one and sometimes the messages that people receive about why we're there do get confused but at heart it's a very very simple reason it's about fundamental UK national interest, and that's why we've got to see this through to a successful conclusion.
Montague: If we are there, it's fairly obvious we have got to support the soldiers properly;  and so many deaths as we have heard from so many inquests have been blamed on inadequate equipment.  Now, I'm sure you will agree that it has not been good enough;  but for all those families who are now worried about their loved ones who are out there, and who hear - almost daily - coroners at inquests raising questions like yesterday, about "I don't think 'making do' is an acceptable proposition for our forces" at the inquest of Captain Hicks yesterday;  can you reassure them, those families, that the equipment that British soldiers have is now good enough?
Hutton: I can;  I can assure everyone listening to this programme that for me personally as a new defence secretary and I know this is true of Des Browne and of all of my predecessors that this is the thing that we worry about the most.  Because we want to make sure that if we're going to fight this very difficult conflict... then we have no choice but to do that.  Then we've got to make sure that our men and women who are doing the most amazing job out there are as well protected
(simultan.) as they can be.  We cannot guarantee, I'm afraid, Sarah, that no-one's going to get injured,... wounded. Montague: Then why, sure, sure;  but take an example,
Montague (contd.): take these Snatch Land Rovers which there's been such a lot of publicity about, and we've heard again and again, "Yes, we've ordered a load more," but they're not actually going to be out there,... in the whole numbers that we've ordered, for another two years or something;  and yet the Americans, when they found a problem were able to change it incredibly quickly.
Hutton: Well, I mean (we) the equipment that we deploy in Afghanistan and in Iraq is the equipment that we're advised to deploy(ed) by our military chiefs - I'll make that the first point.  And in relation to the Snatch Land Rover [it] has a variety of uses which we will continue to want to use;  what we have to be careful of, however, is making sure that when our men and women are involved in patrolling where there is a risk of roadside bombs or landmines, they have the best-protected vehicles that they can;  and it's not true that we won't have any of these vehicles out for two years - we've got hundreds out there already, the Prime Minister
(simultan.) announced only a few weeks ago hundreds more... Montague: ...An awful to more;  the roll out;  the roll-out won't take effect fully until 2010.
Hutton: No, next year we'll have 1200 armoured vehicles out there in Iraq and Afghanistan to make sure our guys are better protected, and that is what we put a very high premium on;  and anyone listening to the extraordinary heroism of Captain Hicks, and the bravery that he displayed, I mean we are incredibly fortunate to have men and women like that serving the country in these very difficult theatres;  and on a day when we are celebrating - and we should be celebrating - the heroism and bravery of previous generations, we must not lose sight of the extraordinary acts of today's generation.
Montague: You allude in your first answer to the fact that our success there depends very much on the Afghanistan government as well in making economic and social progress, and you will be aware of the increasing frustration amongst defence chiefs the Karzi government is perhaps not making that much success;  how long do we give them, because that's possibly ultimately what will determine how long we're there.
Hutton: Well - obviously the Afghan government has/in what it does, and who it is, is a matter for the Afghan people;  there is a democracy in Afghanistan it's up to them to decide these things;  and we should celebrate that too, actually.  So progress in Afghanistan, as I said earlier, is going to be a complicated interaction between the military and the political and the economic.  But I think what we certainly do need, and this is certainly what we say to President Karzi who is a man who, who has made a great difference in Afghanistan - an extraordinary achievement - is that we will need better governance, much better work on tackling narcotics and corruption and we'll give him every help to do that.
Montague: John Hutton, thank you.

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