Dissident lance corporal who refused to fight in Afghanistan claims support of soldiers

Refusenik feared he would be branded a coward
Campaigners say services families getting touch

The Guardian
by Robert Booth, 30 October 2009


Joe Glenton, 27, faces two years in jail for refusing to return to fight in Afghanistan.
Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

A lance corporal who faces jail for refusing to return to fight in Afghanistan has claimed fellow soldiers are rallying to his cause.

Joe Glenton, 27, who serves with the Royal Logistics Corps, returned to his barracks near Oxford this week after speaking at a London peace rally in defiance of orders.

After calling for a complete withdrawal of troops, he feared a hostile reaction, but he said that instead of being branded a coward he was applauded by fellow soldiers.

"When I came back to barracks I was wondering what they would throw at me, but the reaction was heartening," he said. "There were handshakes and a lot of pats on the back. Someone said I was saying what everyone else is thinking. I heard that from several people.

"A lot of these guys had just come back from tours of duty. Many senior people said they respected me for following my convictions."

Glenton has become a leading light in the Stop the War coalition and faces a court martial in January. He could be jailed for two years for refusing to be redeployed to Afghanistan after a tour of duty in 2006; he fled instead to south-east Asia and Australia.

Some soldiers have launched internet-based campaigns which describe him as "an insubordinate disgrace". But his welcome among others appears to indicate growing disquiet elsewhere in the armed forces at the purpose of operations against the Taliban.

"We were told quite specifically the different reasons we were there for: to provide security, reconstruction, rebuilding infrastructure," he said. "But over the course of my tour it became straightforward combat,'' he said.

''A lot of guys around me didn't know why we were there. The confusion happening in the UK today was evident among the troops three years ago."

This week, Corporal Thomas Mason, a member of Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, died from wounds sustained in an explosion, bringing to 223 the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.

A further 940 British soldiers have been wounded in action, including 290 seriously or very seriously injured.

"The charade of the election and the spike in the number of deaths has been explosive," said Chris Nineham, a Stop the War campaigner. "The number of families getting in touch with us has risen. There were virtually no soldiers contacting us last year and now we are hearing from a couple a week who want to get involved."

At a civic reception to mark this week's homecoming of the 2 Rifle battle group from Helmand province, which suffered 23 fatalities in six months, soldiers' parents said they wanted the troops out.

"We went to a meeting with the MoD in Salisbury before our son went to Afghanistan and the army tried to tell us why they were going out there," said Stephen Waterman, 54, a carpenter from Gillingham, Dorset, who welcomed home his son Scott, 20.

"They said they were going to help the Afghan army take control. I understood then, but not once they had started fighting. When they were hit by the daisy -chain attack on 10 July I thought: why are we out there?"

[In that single incident, a succession of roadside bombs left five members of the group dead and others injured on a mission intended to show the Afghan army was in control.]

Waterman added: "Now, I don't think we should be there. If we can't sort it out with the number of troops we have, I don't think we ever will."

Sue Albery, 62, whose daughter, Caroline, served as a Territorial Army medical technician, said: "I believe it is our Vietnam. We are there to reflect our support of US foreign policy. I am unconvinced there is a direct connection between terrorism in this country and what is going on in Afghanistan."

Sharon Cruse, 45, a nurse from Harlow, was reunited this week with her son, Rifleman Lee Mulvey, 20. "I have been in bits about it," she said.

"Every morning I would go on the internet looking at the news and the Ministry of Defence sites and to see if there were any messages from him. There were times when I didn't hear from him for five days and I was waiting for the call from the MoD every day. I have a responsible job, but I was so preoccupied, I forgot to go to work once. I just couldn't cope.

"I don't regret him going out there because he has achieved something that few of us have, but I don't think we will ever beat the Taliban. We will keep going out there and we will keep losing young lads and they are babies. I don't want him to go back."