There has been various media speculation that British troops face only one more summer of major combat operations in Afghanistan after reports of comments made by the US Defence Secretary and French President.
There has been no change to the strategy agreed by ISAF nations in Lisbon in 2010: the process of security transition will continue, with international forces gradually handing over responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces through to the end of 2014.
As the NATO Secretary General said yesterday, 2 February 2012, the decisions made at the Lisbon Summit ‘will remain the bedrock of our strategy’.
And the US Defence Secretary reaffirmed the US commitment to this Lisbon strategy yesterday evening, saying:
We’ve got to stick to the Lisbon strategy. The United States has a very strong commitment to Lisbon and to the strategy that was laid out there.
UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:
We all recognise that in 2013 there will be an evolution of the mission, the Afghans will be having lead responsibility for security throughout the whole country; but we will remain there in a combat support role and we will continue to do so, in our case, until the end of 2014.
Security transition is a process, not a one-off event. In the coming days, once the second tranche of security transition is fully underway, over half the country’s population will live in areas in which the Afghans have the lead for security.
By mid to late 2013, all districts and provinces will have entered the transition process, but entering the process is not the end of the story. ISAF will continue to train, mentor and support the Afghan National Security Forces, building their capability until the completion of transition at the end of 2014.
The UK remains fully committed to the task in Afghanistan. And our support to the Afghans will not end with our combat role in 2014 as evidenced by the long-term partnership agreement signed by the Prime Minister and President Karzai last weekend.