UK Government Looks To Boost War Support

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

London ( - British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to rally support Tuesday for the military action in Afghanistan, urging Britons not to forget the horror of September 11.

Blair said in a speech to the National Assembly of Wales that Britain would not "falter, flinch nor fail" in its efforts to quash terrorism around the world.

"Whatever our faults, Britain is a moral nation with a strong sense of right and wrong. And that moral fiber will defeat fanaticism, terrorists and their supporters," he said.

In recent days, government ministers have lashed out at media reports critical of the bombing campaign. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw accused the press of a "Kosovo wobble," referring to doubts about NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia before Serbian leader Slobodon Milosevic eventually gave in to allied demands.

On Tuesday, The Guardian newspaper printed a poll indicating that support for the war amongst the British public has dropped over the past two weeks, from 74 percent to 64 percent.

Officials played down the survey, with House of Commons leader Robin Cook saying it showed a "tiny" increase in opposition and, disregarding undecided respondents, a 3 to 1 ratio in support of the war.

Doubts not fault of media

Geoff Mungham, a professor of journalism at Cardiff University and a BBC contributor, said that the lack of a unifying "big story" about the purpose and progress of the war is lending a voice to critics of the alliance action.

"There is genuine confusion at the highest levels about how to fight this war," he said. "I have every sympathy with the government, because something has to be done, but there's disagreement about how to proceed."

Mungham said alliance leaders should be clarifying the aims and methods of the war rather than lashing out at reporters.

"This past Sunday, nearly every one of the British (national) papers led with stories raising serious questions about the war," he said. "The fault doesn't lie with the media for that - the fault lies with the politicians and the military leaders."

He pointed to the conflicting reports earlier this week about the role of British ground troops as a key point of confusion.

Last Friday, defense ministers made a long-awaited announcement on the use of U.K. marines, saying that more than 200 troops would be immediately ready for action inside Afghanistan. But military leaders on the ground have said that more intelligence and preparation is necessary before British soldiers fight the Taliban.

The leader of 40 Commando, the Royal Marine force headed for operations in Afghanistan, said the eventual role of his troops in the conflict was ambiguous.

"I do not think that it is clear in anyone's mind," Rear Adm. James Burnell-Nugent told The Times newspaper. "That is the challenge."

"People do get puzzled when they hear conflicting statements," Mungham said. "(But) they can take all sorts of horrible things, including casualties and pictures of civilians in body bags - as long as it's clear what we're fighting for."

'Flood of evidence'

It was the underlying cause of the war that Blair tried to spell out again during his speech to the Welsh Assembly. The prime minister said there was now a "flood of evidence" linking Osama bin Laden to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"It is important that we never forget why we are doing this, never forget how we felt watching the planes fly into the trade towers, never forget those phone messages," he said. "Never forget how we felt imagining how mothers told children they were about to die."

He also told people not to forget "the firefighters and police who died trying to save others, never forget the gloating menace of Osama bin Laden in his propaganda videos."

"It is not us who is at war with Islam," Blair said. "It is al-Qaida and the Taliban who are at war with anyone, whatever their faith, who does not share their maniacal and fanatical view of the world."

Detailing the reasons for the speech Monday, the prime minister's official spokesman said it is important to keep setting out the reasons for the conflict.

The spokesman also said the British government would prefer to see bin Laden be captured alive and brought before a court, but that the government was "realistic" about the small chance of that happening in the course of an intense military campaign.