By Ian Dunt
The government's strategy in Afghanistan was at risk of turning into a laughing stock last night, after the defence secretary appeared to be unaware of what the UK's mission in the country was.
It emerged last night that Nato was suspending joint allied-Afghan patrols due to the rise in so-called 'green on blue' attacks, but the confirmation came just hours after Phillip Hammond singularly failed to mention any such change in the Commons.
Responding to an urgent question in the Commons, Hammond said: "It is essential that we complete the task of training the Afghan national security forces and increasing their capability so that they can take over the burden of combat as we withdraw.
"That is what we intend to do, and we will not be deterred from it by these attacks."
The goal of training Afghan troops has been a centrepiece of British strategy for years and the suspension of joint operations announced by US and Nato commander General John Allen last night is a major development.
Labour MP Dennis MacShane demanded another urgent question this morning in response to the confusion.
"It may seem unusual to request a second UQ [urgent question] on Afghanistan after you kindly granted me one yesterday but unless Mr Hammond decides to make a statement I fear I have to ask for another from the MoD [Ministry of Defence] today after the extraordinary announcement from the Pentagon that they are reversing the whole axis of US and UK strategy in Afghanistan," he wrote to Speaker John Bercow.
"Mr Hammond did not mention this in his Commons response to my UQ yesterday.
"If he did know this major U-turn was about to be announced but did not tell the House that is very grave," he argued.
"If he was not informed in a timely fashion it says much for the importance the US attaches to informing the UK of a complete change in their Afghan policy despite our major troop presence and continuing sacrifice there."
The change in strategy comes amid 51 Nato casualties as a result of Afghan attacks.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander told the Today programme: "This announcement begs more questions than it answers. Why did Philip Hammond not even mention it yesterday when he addressed MPs in the House of Commons? Was it that he didn't know or did he choose not to tell MPs?
"But sitting beyond that question is the deeper question: does this represent a temporary tactical response by military commanders on the ground or does it represent a more strategic shift in the mission?"
Foreign secretary William Hague is facing the foreign affairs committee later this morning, where he is certain to have to answer questions about the change in strategy.
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By Ian Dunt
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