London plays down 'price of democracy' claims

Turnout figures appear very low for Helmand province
Turnout figures appear very low for Helmand province

By staff

The Foreign Office has rejected suggestions that less than 40 votes in Afghanistan's elections equated to one British life.

The area around Babaji, north of Lashkar Gah, saw just 150 votes cast in last Thursday's crucial presidential elections, out of a total of 80,000.

British forces fought to secure the area in Operation Panther's Claw but only 11 votes were registered in each of the 13 polling stations established there.

Initial figures released by Afghanistan's electoral commission put the UK casualty to Afghan vote ratio as 1:1, but British officials have now played down these statistics.

"The clear phase of that operation only ended a couple of weeks before the election... there is a long road to go until that entire area is fully secure," Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan Mark Sedwill told journalists yesterday.

Four out of ten of the UK soldiers who died during Operation Panther's Claw, designed to retake areas under Taliban control in volatile Helmand province, died in or around the former insurgent stronghold.

The British government sought to play down the significance of initial voting figures, saying it was "wrong to speculate on turnout".

"At the moment reports are anecdotal and paint an incomplete picture," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

"The important thing is that the outcome of the elections represents the will of the Afghan people."

Officials point out that Panther's Claw has benefits going far beyond securing the Babaji area for last week's elections, with legitimate governance extended to around 80,000 more Afghan citizens.

Incumbent Hamid Karzai is expected to win a second term as president as results from the elections continue to trickle in. With about a third of votes counted he stands on 45 per cent, with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah trailing on 35 per cent.

Fighting the Taliban has undoubtedly taken a big toll from British forces since November 2001.

In the last seven years the UK death-toll in Afghanistan has reached 207, with 70 soldiers dying in the last year alone.


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