Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has told Parliament that 'real and meaningful' progress is being achieved in Afghanistan and that the insurgency is under considerable pressure.
In the Government’s Quarterly Statement on Afghanistan to the House of Commons on Tuesday 18 October 2011, Mr Hammond began by paying tribute to Rifleman Vijay Rai, from 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, who died in Afghanistan on Saturday.
He also made the commitment to visit troops in Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Mr Hammond said that in the ten years since operations first began in Afghanistan, with international support and assistance, the country has come a long way:
Governance and rule of law are improving across the country. The Afghan Government is providing increasing levels of basic services, with Afghans enjoying much greater access to health facilities and more education opportunities - including for girls - than in 2001.
He said that the Government welcomed the Afghan Parliament’s decision on Saturday to approve the supplementary budget to recapitalise the Central Bank, paving the way towards agreement on a new IMF (International Monetary Fund) programme of support in the coming weeks:
Agreeing the new programme will reinvigorate the Kabul Process, allowing donors to align themselves behind Afghan Government priorities and systems as we move through transition and beyond.
He went on to say that while the tangible improvements that have taken place should not be understated, it would be wrong to underestimate the scale of the remaining challenge:
We are working from a very low base,” the Defence Secretary said.
If progress is to be sustained, the commitment of the international community, including the UK, will have to endure for many years to come - long after international troops have withdrawn from combat operations.
He said that on the security front progress has been ‘real and meaningful’, but it has been hard-won and is not irreversible and that, in many areas, Afghanistan remains a dangerous place:
The insurgency is under considerable pressure, but its leaders remain committed to conducting a violent campaign. The murder of former president Rabbani is a particular setback.
It is important that his death does not derail efforts to engage with those willing to renounce violence and work towards peace.
We will continue to support President Karzai’s efforts to promote peace and reconciliation and are encouraging engagement to support this from all those in the region, including Pakistan.
However, he added that there is also cause for optimism and that in the UK area of operations in central Helmand there is clear evidence that the ISAF troop surge has brought security gains, limiting the insurgents’ ability to prosecute their campaign.
He said that UK troops, partnered with Afghan security forces, are having a tangible impact on insurgent activity in their area of operations and that the central achievement this summer has been the commencement of the formal security transition process:
The process of transition is on track and will continue,” Mr Hammond said.
The Afghan Government, with ISAF support, is continuing the preparatory work needed to begin the transition process in the next set of provinces and districts.
October also saw Task Force Helmand resume responsibility for the Upper Gereshk Valley. This follows the temporary deployment of US Marine Corps to the area while UK forces provided security for the strategically significant Highway 1.
UK forces will now work with the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] to secure freedom of movement, continuing to prepare the district to enter the transition process in the future.
On the progress of the Afghan security forces he said that the Afghan National Army now stands at 169,000 and the Afghan National Police at 134,000, and that both forces are on track to meet their target levels by October 2012.
On the drawdown of UK combat troops he said:
President Karzai has stated his commitment to his Government assuming lead security responsibility across the country as a whole by the end of 2014, a goal we share and support.
This means that British troops will not be in a combat role by 2015, nor deployed in the numbers they are now. The ANSF will, however, still need support from the international community even after the conclusion of the transition process.
We will continue to support their development, for instance, through our lead involvement in a new Officers Academy, as announced by the Prime Minister in the summer.