Progress in Afghanistan top foreign policy priority for Britain: official

09:22, October 28, 2010      

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Wednesday that it remains vital to the national security that Afghanistan be able to maintain its own security to prevent al-Qaida from returning.

In his quarterly report on Afghanistan to the House of Commons, Hague said: "Making progress in Afghanistan is the top foreign policy priority for the government, linked closely of course to our foreign and development policy towards Pakistan."

The new British government have given full attention to Afghanistan in the National Security Council. "We have ensured that government departments and ministers are working together at the highest level and that the necessary resources are being devoted to this difficult task in Afghanistan," he said.

Hague said, "We have doubled the operational allowance for our troops, sharply increased our development aid and rebalanced the deployment of our forces in Helmand. In addition to these reports and regular updates by Ministers, we will also make more information available to the House in the form of Written Ministerial Statements each month from November."

The foreign secretary said "NATO's strategy is to protect the civilian population, support more effective government at every level and build up the Afghan National Security Forces as rapidly as is possible. It also requires the Afghan government to meet the commitments on governance and security that it made at the Kabul Conference in July this year."

On security, Hague said Britain assesses that steady progress is being made across Afghanistan and specifically in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces. International forces now number 130,000 while the Afghan National Security Forces will reach 260,000 by the end of the year, exceeding their target size for 2010.

Hague admitted that the situation remains extremely challenging, saying that "we must expect levels of violence to remain high, and even increase, as Afghan and ISAF forces tackle the insurgency."

In Helmand province, British forces continue to train the Afghan National Security Forces and conduct operations against the insurgency. Hague said "we are increasing the number of British troops directly involved in the training and development of the Afghan National Security Forces by over 320."

This increase is part of the rebalancing of British forces in the province and has been made possible by the handover of security responsibility for Kajaki, Musa Qala and Sangin to its U.S. allies, in order to concentrate British forces in the key population centers of central Helmand.

British Prime Minister David Cameron will attend the NATO Summit in Lisbon on Nov. 19, when NATO is expected to agree the process of transferring lead responsibility for security across Afghanistan to the Afghan Security Forces by the end of 2014.

Hague said, "It will be a phased transition with the Afghan Security Forces gradually taking the lead, as they have in Kabul, in jointly selected districts and provinces, as the conditions on the ground are met. British forces will be drawn down from combat operations by 2015."

On governance, Hague said the Afghan government is making some progress on its Kabul Conference commitments.

Britain will work with individuals and groups who accept the conditions laid down by President Karzai's government: insurgents must renounce Al Qaida, give up armed struggle and work within the Afghan Constitutional framework, Hague said.

The British government announced an increase of 200 million pounds (300 million U.S. dollars) in its funding for Afghanistan to stabilize insecure areas, stimulate the economy and improve essential services.

Hague said the deployment of British Armed Forces abroad is one of the gravest of responsibilities of government, along with that of protecting the security of British citizens and territory.

This is the first of the quarterly reports that Cameron announced in his statement to the House in June. The next Quarterly Report will be delivered by the Secretary of State for Defense in the New Year.

Source: Xinhua


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