THE newly appointed Bishop to the Forces, the Rt Revd Stephen Venner, called for the British public to maintain their support for service personnel in Afghanistan, after eight soldiers were killed in a 24-hour period last week.
Bishop Venner said it had “not been the quietest week to start”, and that his “heart went out to the families who had lost loved ones” in recent days.
The soldiers’ deaths led to criticism of the Government’s strategy in Afghanistan, with the Conservatives claiming that troops faced a severe shortage of military equipment. The Liberal Democrats said British strategy was “over-ambitious in aim, and under-resourced in practice”.
A total of 184 British personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2002.
Although he said he did not want to be drawn into political and moral questions about Afghanistan, Bishop Venner said “the Church needs to speak into this debate.
“I think it’s very important that, whatever your view about war, the British public show, as the people of Wootton Bassett have shown this week, that the soldiers and service personnel do have our support and admiration. My job is to get alongside the forces and their families, and, in particular, support the chaplains in the forces. I will be visiting troops in this country as requested and as required, and providing personal support to the three senior chaplains in the forces.”
Bishop Venner has not ruled out a trip to Afghanistan if such a visit “could be helpful”.
He said he did not have information on whether the troops in Afghanistan were adequately resourced, but said he had followed the situation “in the papers, like everyone else. If we as a country send our service personnel to do a job for us, the very least they can expect from us is proper equipment and support.”
The Bishop has had previous experience with the forces during his time as Rural Dean of Weymouth, which included the Portland naval base, and in his current position as Bishop for the Falkland Islands. He will retire as Bishop of Dover in November.
On Monday, two bishops expressed their condolences in the House of Lords after the deaths in Afghanistan.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd John Gladwin, also questioned whether the large numbers of Western troops in Afghanistan were actually adding “strength to the radical Islamist argument that this is about Western imperial ambitions”, and called for clarity on the purpose of the military operation.
The Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, said he was proud of the troops in Afghanistan, but asked why British troops were there.