Public Sector: Afghanistan team in merger

Government shakes up teams to strengthen comms on Afghan conflict.

The Cabinet Office's counter-terrorism comms team is to merge with Number 10's Afghanistan comms team, in the latest Downing Street shake-up.

The move is intended to strengthen the Government's 'narrative' on Afghanistan. It also means the Government's Afghanistan comms operation will be aligned more directly with the National Security Cou-ncil. A Downing Street Source said: 'It's partly a case of comms structures catching up with what's happened on the official side. We need to explain why we are there - it's about protecting our national security.'

The new unit will see a strengthened central team. The current model has team members based in the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

The merger could see director of comms for counter-terrorism John Toker competing for the unit's top job with Emily Hands, who heads up the Afghanistan comms team.

This follows news of a radical restructure of the Downing Street comms operation, which was revealed just days before Andy Coulson's departure as comms director (PRWeek,28 January), and preceded the appointment of his replacement Craig Oliver.

The Afghanistan comms team was formed in October 2009 by permanent secretary for government comms Matt Tee and former Downing Street director of comms Simon Lewis.

HOW I SEE IT - JAMES CLARK, FREELANCE COMMS CONSULTANT AND EX-MINISTRY OF DEFENCE HEAD OF NEWS

The challenge with communicating the Afghan conflict has always been establishing a link in the public mind with domestic security and separating it from the conflict in Iraq.

Merging the comms teams can't help but improve that process, and both are led by high-quality people. Nonetheless, there still needs to be a clearer political narrative for them to work with, particularly now that the spectre of withdrawal is being raised.

There's now a limited time to establish the 'why are we there?' line before the question turns to the far more damaging 'why were we ever there?'

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