Addressing an audience at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) the Minister for the Armed Forces Bill Rammell has used his first major speech on defence to argue that the work of the Armed Forces in combating the insurgency in Afghanistan is directly combating terrorism in the UK.
He argued that this is not a clash of civilisations, nor is it democracy against Islam. Rather, it is a struggle against intolerance, oppression and extremism which challenges the freedoms the UK holds dear.
Mr Rammell began his speech by highlighting how the events of 9/11 in New York and the 7/7 bombings in London had informed the UK's Counter Terrorism Strategy (CONTEST), and showed the evolving threat of terrorism, but that the new reality of the threat is still not always widely understood:
"In the last century, the threat to the UK was overwhelmingly from the Armed Forces of other nations. Now no state threatens directly the national territory of the UK. Vigilance remains necessary. Deterrence, in all its forms, remains a valid strategy. But threats now have diversified. Among them the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the consequences of weak states and ungoverned space, and of course terrorism in all its forms," Mr Rammell said.
"The use of terror as a strategy is as old as warfare itself. But those who have used it, what they hope to achieve, and the way they apply it is continually evolving.
"As civilisation is adjusting to the new realities of globalisation - with the increased worldwide use of the internet, the growing ease of global travel, and the interconnection of national economies - so civilisation's old enemy, terrorism, has shown a new and ugly face."
Mr Rammell reaffirmed the position that national and international efforts to counter terrorism are one of the MOD's highest priorities; and also that the defence contribution in countering terrorism should continue to be focused primarily on overseas operations to counter the international terrorist threat before it reaches the UK:
"This new, evolved, globalised form of terrorism must be confronted," Mr Rammell asserted.
"…We must continue to grow and adapt our counter-terrorism strategy to address its new face. The National Security Strategy sets the context for that work. There are no 'home' and 'away' threats anymore. Our refreshed counter-terrorism strategy - CONTEST - is a comprehensive strategy for tackling terrorism."
However, he cautioned that there is no purely military solution to terrorism and that countering terrorism requires countering its financing, recruiting, communications and ideology - none of which can be done at the point of a gun. He said that this effort would involve every government department in the UK:
"We need to address terrorism as a whole society because it is our whole society which this new terrorism threatens. That means reaching out to those in our society who are being specifically targeted by Al Qaeda and others who would give support to extremist violence. That means reaching out across government to be more effective. That means reaching out to all countries, not just our close allies. It means using all tools at our disposal to pursue, prevent, protect and prepare."
Moving onto the specific issue of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Rammell said that Britain's involvement overseas can be controversial and can create strong grievances which resonate across different communities. But he said that Britain's defence and foreign policy operations are often misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented, and that these efforts are in fact at the heart of tackling international terrorism:
"The greatest international priority in tackling terrorism around the globe is the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"Our troops are in Afghanistan to keep our country safe from the threat of terrorism. To prevent Al Qaeda having a secure base from which to threaten us directly. This is not just about the UK's national security. 42 nations are taking part - one of the widest ever international coalitions. It is about their national security too.
"We are fighting the insurgents now in Afghanistan because the return of the hardcore irreconcilable Taliban would give Al Qaeda greater freedom to operate. Freedom to plan, direct or provide support for more terrorist attacks. With the return of the hardcore Taliban, hundreds of thousands would flee, unrest in the region would escalate. Al Qaeda is now located in the borderlands of Pakistan where they pose a direct threat to Pakistan and to wider international security.
"That is why our strategy doesn't focus on Afghanistan alone. But Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan because we and our allies are providing support to the Afghan Government.
"In the long-term, the key in Afghanistan will be Afghan-led governance and political reconciliation. Our strategy in Afghanistan is not about territory, it is about people. Securing the main population centres against the insurgents. Providing the space for governance and public services to take root. Splitting the insurgency. Allowing governance to be taken forward from a position of strength.
"That is what Operation PANTHER'S CLAW has been about."
Mr Rammell added that over the border Pakistan faces a fierce insurgency of its own and that the Government of Pakistan has recognised that violent extremism poses the most serious threat to the Pakistani state. He said that in response the Pakistan military had recently launched successful operations to drive out militant extremists from the Swat and Buner regions and that the majority of the Pakistani population supported the action.
In conclusion, Mr Rammell said in Afghanistan and Pakistan the UK's purpose is clear - to prevent terrorism coming to the streets of Britain:
"The operations in Afghanistan and engagement with Pakistan are therefore a significant contribution to CONTEST."
Click here for the full text of the speech, on the MoD website.