Britain's Latest War Dead Come Home to Rest
Wooten Bassett, England
11 November 2009
The remains of five British servicemen killed by an Afghan police officer in Afghanistan have returned to Britain, along with the body of another soldier killed in an explosion. Britain's rising death toll in Afghanistan is fueling opposition to the war.
|British fallen serviceman are honored in a public ceremony|
It is a homecoming but not the way anyone had wished... a Royal Air Force plane carrying the remains of six British servicemen.
This has become a ritual to honor the dead. Welcoming home the fallen from Afghanistan. In the English village of Wootton Bassett, a gesture of respect for a military fighting 4,000 miles away.
This homecoming is all the more bittersweet, because five of these men were shot by an policeman they were supposed to be training.
Training the Afghan military and police is at the heart of Britain and NATO's mission in Afghanistan, and crucial to any exit strategy. If the British soldiers can not trust potential recruits, training becomes much harder. And troops in the field are having their doubts says historian and author Robert Fox.
"I know the British troops in Afhganistan have been quite wary of some of the Afghan forces they've been training and frankly the police force doesn't have much of a reputation at all," Fox said.
In Wootton Bassett, there's shock and disbelief at the way these men died, says Mayor Steve Bucknell. "They need always to be on their guard, They're very very professional troops, and I'm sure they're always on their guard," he says, "but to be killed in such a treacherous way is particularly galling."
David and Sally Bell travelled 50 miles to pay their respects to men they say should not have died.
And military veteran Roland Simmons questions the British forces' training mission in Afghanistan. "So do we continue training them, or do we say, 'No, well we're not going to do it, no more, you've got to train your own guys,'" Simmons said.
But soon after the attack on the five servicemen, Prime Minister Gordon Brown reaffirmed Britain's commitment in Afghanistan.
"Our mission must not fail. It is not easy. The choices are not simple. There is no strategy that is without danger and risk, but that is the responsibility of leadership, of government and of our armed forces," Mr. Brown says, "to do what is necessary, however difficult, to keep the British people safe. We cannot, must not and will not walk away."
The hundreds of people who line the streets of Wootton Bassett are a testament of the widespread support for the British forces, although the country remains sharply divided by whether Britain should remain in Afghanistan.
Many people say they're not happy to be here, but they'll continue to come back in order to give Britain's fallen, a proper homecoming.