Thousands protest against Afghanistan war

Military families lead anti-war protest in London as Nato leaders agree exit strategy

Thousands of protesters have marched through London against the war in Afghanistan as as Nato leaders agreed a strategy to withdraw their troops from the country.

The demonstration, which organisers said was 10,000-strong, came as the prime minister, David Cameron, said the withdrawal of British combat troops from Afghanistan by 2015 was a "firm deadline" that would be met.

Speaking at a Nato summit in Lisbon, Cameron said Afghan forces would begin taking charge of security from early next year and the security handover would be complete by the end of 2014.

"The commitment we have entered into today to transfer the lead responsibility for security to the Afghan government by the end of 2014 will pave the way for British combat troops to be out of Afghanistan by 2015. This is a firm deadline that we will meet."

The protesters were led by military families, including those of soldiers killed in the conflict.

Stephen Barnes, whose son Corporal Jason Barnes, was killed in 2008, told the crowd: "I have mixed feelings over this war.

"I don't want Jason's death to be in vain but I don't want any other family to feel and go through what I went through."

Joe Glenton, a former soldier who was jailed for six months for refusing to serve in Afghanistan, said the war was a "sham".

Glenton, who yesterday returned his medals to Downing Street, was among the protesters who criticised spending on the war in the context of government spending cuts.

He said: "This isn't about defence of our country or our liberty. What are these men [soldiers] going to return to? A country that has been mutilated financially and politically."

Seamus Milne, a commentator for the Guardian, said the Nato strategy to withdraw troops was "a sham".

He told the crowds: "They're stating that their aim is to withdraw combat troops by 2015.

"Even if they achieve that, the period from now until then will be as long as the first world war."

Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) has around 130,000 soldiers based in Afghanistan, including 10,000 from the UK.

Under the new Nato strategy, some Isaf troops would remain in the country after 2015 but their role would largely be in training Afghan forces.

The UK defence secretary, Liam Fox, who is in Lisbon with Cameron, said last night that some British forces currently concentrated in Helmand province could be sent to other areas after 2014.

Allied deaths have reached record levels this year. Guardsman Christopher Davies, 22, who was killed on Wednesday in Helmand, was the 100th British member of the armed forces to die in Afghanistan this year.

November 20, 2010, Guardian

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