The UK is in Afghanistan for one overriding reason: to protect our own national security by helping the Afghans take control of theirs. This means building up the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) so that they can prevent Al-Qaeda from returning and posing a threat to us and to our allies around the world, and allowing British combat forces to gradually draw down.
Afghanistan today is unrecognisable from the Afghanistan of 2001, but addressing the damage caused by thirty years of civil war and the misrule of the Taliban will take time. Progress over ten years has been sometimes difficult, but we have made real progress in many areas.
The Afghan economy is growing, governance and rule of law improving across the country, the Afghan Government is providing increasing levels of basic services, with Afghans enjoying more jobs, much greater access to health facilities, and more education opportunities - including for girls - than in 2001, and the capacity and capability of the ANSF have improved significantly.
However, we have not finished the job. So we must not lose focus, but ensure that we see the job through. We have the right strategy and enough time to achieve it.
The beginning of transition in July this year marked the start of a new phase which will see Afghanistan increasingly take on responsibility for its own security. The process is on track to be complete by the end of 2014, when British forces will no longer be in a combat role, nor deployed in the numbers they are now.
The international community will continue to have a strong, long term relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014 based on diplomacy, trade, development and continued support for the development of the ANSF.
Marking the 10th anniversary of the start of UK operations today, the Defence Secretary said:
As we mark 10 years since military operations began in Afghanistan, it is vital to remember the reasons why our Armed Forces deployed to Afghanistan and continue to serve there today: to protect our national security at home in Britain.
The UK, along with 49 other countries, is helping to create a stable Afghanistan, able to maintain its own security, to prevent it once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
Afghanistan today is unrecognisable from the Afghanistan of 2001 and significant progress continues to be made. But addressing the damage caused by 30 years of civil war and the misrule of the Taliban will take time. Our strategy is focused, the coalition is strong, our Afghan partners are fully engaged and we have the resources and resolve to succeed.
As we have made clear, UK forces will no longer be in a combat role or present in the sorts of numbers they are now by 2015 - but this doesn’t mean abandoning the Afghan people. We will continue to have a very strong relationship based on trade, diplomacy, aid and development, and on developing the Afghan forces.
We owe a deep debt of gratitude to our servicemen and women, 382 of whom have paid the ultimate price in protecting us at home in the UK.
General Richards said:
Today marks 10 years of British involvement in Afghanistan where almost 10,000 of our people continue to demonstrate the world class professionalism and determination for which they are renowned. They encapsulate all that is great about our Armed Forces and we must continue to support them in their work to uphold Britain’s national security and keep us safe.
Over the last 10 years we have made progress. It has been uneven, but it has been significant and unquestionable. I have seen the changes in Helmand from the time when districts were impossible for the government to enter, to now, when full markets and open schools demonstrate the effect our troops have had.
Looking ahead, we will maintain our focus and ensure that we see the job through. UK forces continue to oversee great strides in the development of the Afghan forces. They are steadily assuming control for their own security.
Our core aims are the security of the UK, and the linked development of the Afghan security forces. In this we are achieving our objectives in Afghanistan and we will succeed.