Anger over Afghan war as 6 UK war dead mourned

AP News
Posted: Nov 10, 2009 6:40 PM

Grieving over the death of her son in Afghanistan, the woman tore into British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"Mr. Brown, listen to me," she said. "I know every injury that my child sustained that day. I know that my son could have survived. But my son bled to death."

A tape of the 13-minute telephone conversation was broadcast by The Sun newspaper Tuesday and then played over and over across Britain, a rallying cry for mounting anger over a war many now see as badly planned and impossible to win.

It came as six other British soldiers killed in Afghanistan were brought home on the eve of Remembrance Day, when Britain honors its war dead. That, too, provided powerful symbolism for a war gone bad, with hundreds of mourners lining the streets and throwing flowers as the hearses made their way through this market town in south central England.

Jacqui Janes' 20-year-old son, Jamie, was not in Tuesday's somber procession. He was mortally wounded by a roadside bomb last month.

When Brown called Monday to offer condolences, her anger and grief boiled over, and she berated him for a lack of troop helicopters, equipment and his spelling errors in the letter _ addressing her as "Mrs. James" and making a mistake in her son's name.

There were 25 errors in all, she said, "an insult to my child."

Brown tried multiple times to defend himself, only to be interrupted by Janes.

"I cannot believe I have been brought down to the level of having an argument with the prime minister of my own country," she said.

Brown, who lost an infant daughter in 2002 and is nearly blind in one eye, apologized for his mistakes and offered his condolences.

"However strongly you feel about my mistakes in this matter, I still feel very, very personally sad about the death of your son and I want you to know that, and I'm sorry if you've taken offense at my letter," Brown said.

Britain is at a crossroads in its Afghanistan policy as it considers plans to boost troop numbers _ all while balancing waning public support and demanding democratic reform in the ravaged nation.

Five of the soldiers returned Tuesday were killed by an Afghan officer they had worked with. The deaths have triggered a sense of betrayal among Britons, and mourners gathered in Wootton Bassett questioned whether foreign troops would ever win the loyalty of the Afghan people.

British and allied troops have spent years training Afghan forces and securing villages vulnerable to Taliban attacks since the mission began in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The sixth soldier was killed in a roadside bomb two days later. The soldiers ranged in age from 18 to 40.

Some 232 British troops have died since 2001, and many troops and families alike have criticized the government for a lack of equipment. Several military commanders have also resigned, questioning the sustainability of the ill-defined mission.

"Your guard is down _ you trust these people. You're trying to train them up so they can go on themselves," said Steve Morgan, a 42-year-old who served in the Royal Air Force and traveled from Swindown in western England to Wootton Bassett to pay tribute.

People come from all across the United Kingdom to pay respects to the war dead in Wootton Bassett _ a small town about 85 miles west of London that has become synonymous with the Afghan mission's dangers.

Until April 2007, bodies were taken to Brize Norton RAF base in Oxfordshire and then to a hospital in Oxford before being released to families. That route was away from main thoroughfares through towns.

When renovations began at that base, they began using RAF Lyneham _ and processions now have to pass through the middle of Wootton Bassett.

The town of about 11,000 essentially shuts down for the brief ceremonies, residents standing several deep along the route _ some saluting.

The repatriations _ usually broadcast live on television _ have taken on national significance.

"The British way of mourning war dead is quite formal," said Robert Lee, spokesman for the Royal British Legion.

Crowds have grown from dozens into the thousands as the number of deaths has escalated over the past two years. More than 70 repatriation ceremonies have taken place.

Tuesday's ceremonies drew three times the crowd as past events, mourners said.

The American military just this year removed its 18-year ban on media covering the return of U.S. service members killed in action, and only then with family permission.

NATO leaders said Tuesday they expected member states to commit more troops to train Afghanistan's expanding security forces. More allied troops would fit into U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's plan to expand the Afghan National Army's strength from 94,000 to 134,000.

But any decision to send more troops could backfire for the British Labour-led government.

A poll last week showed that 64 percent of Britons _ up from 58 percent over the summer _ think the war is unwinnable. And 63 percent of the 1,009 people polled wanted the troops withdrawn.

Brown said Tuesday that by mid-2010, British forces will begin handing over control of some districts of the southern Helmand province to Afghan military leaders and local lawmakers _ a tactic aimed at preparing the way for an eventual withdrawal from the province.

Brown, who has said the Afghanistan mission is crucial to protecting Britons against terrorism, paid tribute to Tuesday's dead.

"Each life lost is an irreplaceable loss from a family," Brown said. "It reminds us of the stark human cost of armed conflict in the service of our society."


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