A British soldier mans an armored vehicle in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
LONDON (Jan. 26, 2010) – “The United States has no closer ally than the United Kingdom,” Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said here Monday.
The two nations have a special relationship based on history, shared values and a shared future, he said during a speech before the House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic and International Security.
“Nowhere is our special relationship more apparent than in Afghanistan,” he pointed out. “No one country has stood closer with us on the front lines in our fight against violent extremism – and no country has paid so high a price in this crucial mission.”
As of November, 9,000 of the United Kingdom’s 150,240 soldiers were participating in NATO operations in Afghanistan. According to BBC News, 251 British military personnel have been killed during operations there, including the latest, Lance Cpl. Daniel Cooper, who was killed Jan. 24 in an explosion south of Sangin district center in Helmand province. Of those killed, 31 have died from accidents, illness or non-combat injuries, or have yet to be assigned a cause of death.
Lynn expressed the American people’s deep gratitude for their service and sacrifice. “We rely greatly on the expertise and resources that you bring to the fight,” he told the members of the Parliamentary group.
The U.S. deputy defense secretary arrived here the night of Jan. 24, primed to address mutual security concerns and encourage defense cooperation during his public events and one-on-one meetings with government officials. Following a meeting at the U.S. Embassy with Ambassador Louis Susman, Lynn spoke during an off-the-record session at the European Security and Defense Conference.
About 250 European diplomats, military and government officials and think-tank researchers are attending the two-day conference at Chatham House, home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Next on his docket was his visit to Parliament, where he was escorted on a brief tour of the historic building by Gisela Stuart, member of Parliament for Birmingham Edgbaston and chairwoman of the All Parliamentary Group. Following lunch in the House of Commons, Lynn addressed the need for defense cooperation to develop new capabilities to deal with unconventional threats. He also spoke of the continuing military partnership between the two nations.
“In Haiti, your military and rescue services are serving alongside ours to help make a desperate situation a little less desperate each day,” he said. “Off the Horn of Africa, your Navy sails with ours to sweep the sea clear of pirates.”
Turning to Afghanistan, Lynn said, British leadership has helped to solidify European resolve as the war there enters a pivotal phase.
“Your public, like ours, has grown weary of conflict,” he said. “Your treasury, like ours, is under strain. And yet when President Obama asked for others to join in our renewed push for security, it was your country who first answered the call. In fact, you increased your troop presence even before the new strategy was announced.”
Lynn noted that the London Conference on Afghanistan is also being held here this week, co-hosted by the British and Afghan governments. Nearly 70 delegations are attending to focus on the civilian side of the mission. Lynn said he hopes the conference will link international support with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s anti-corruption, governance and security initiatives.
The deputy defense secretary also highlighted the Afghan government’s plan to announce a new program of reconciliation underwritten by the U.K.-Japan International Reintegration Fund. The program’s goal is to provide “an assured and lasting means to demobilize Taliban fighters who are willing to switch sides,” Lynn said.
“The London Conference is also an important opportunity for countries to fulfill their pledges of support, and for still more countries to step forward with pledges of troops,” he added. A shortage of trainers to help ready Afghan security forces, he said, “is an area where we can and should do more.”
Measurable progress should take place over the next 18 to 24 months, Lynn said, but he acknowledged that it’s too early to judge whether momentum on the ground has shifted.
“But we are confident that the new strategy will help us reach our goal of beginning the transition to Afghan leadership and control next year,” he said. “We are not in an easy fight. And 2011 is not the end. It will be the beginning of a transition to Afghan control. But a stable and secure Afghanistan, free from terrorist threat, is a goal worth fighting for – for America, for Europe, for our partners and for Afghanistan.”