Britain and Afghanistan today agreed to continue their defence relationship long beyond the end of combat operations in 2014.
On a visit to Kabul, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond met his Afghan counterpart General Abdul Rahim Wardak and signed a Statement of Intent on developing a so called’ Sandhust in the Sand’.
Mr Hammond and Afghan Defence Minister General Wardak met at the Afghan Ministry of National Defence for talks. They agreed the establishment of a British-inspired and led officer academy for the Afghan National Army (ANA).
Modelled on the British Army’s highly respected officer training college Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the new institution will play a key role in developing Afghanistan’s next generation of military leaders - those who will lead crucial, ongoing work to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for international terrorism.
The UK will provide approximately 75 per cent of the non-Afghan mentoring staff at the new academy, which will be located in the Qargha area of Kabul.
Mr Hammond said:
The Prime Minister announced last summer that the UK will lead the coalition support to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy through the provision of training and planning expertise and mentoring of the Academy leadership and instructors.
I am delighted to have travelled to Kabul to meet President Karzai and General Wardak. Signing the formal agreement brings this great vision a step closer - something that will further cement the already close working relationship between our two [countries’] ministries and armed forces.
Today, our vital mission supporting and developing the Afghan security forces in Helmand remains the priority. But as we look ahead to 2014, our support to the Afghan forces will change to see the UK assisting in the delivery of high quality training that meets their requirements to produce professional officers and leaders of their own.
As well as holding talks with General Wardak, the Defence Secretary met with President Karzai and held other meetings with senior military personnel, including Commander ISAF, General John R Allen (USA), and British Deputy Commander of ISAF, Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw.
The engagements in the Afghan capital followed a visit to British troops in the southern province of Helmand. Mr Hammond travelled out to a Forward Operating Base in Nahr-e Saraj where he joined soldiers on a foot patrol and took part in a local shura with Afghan police commanders.
At Task Force Helmand’s headquarters in Lashkar Gah, Mr Hammond received briefings from senior officers including the outgoing Task Force Helmand Commander, Brigadier Patrick Sanders, who has led 20 Armoured Brigade over the six-month tour which is now drawing to a close. Mr Hammond also met with Helmand’s provincial governor, Mohammad Gulab Mangal.
The Defence Secretary visited the scene of Monday’s incident at Lashkar Gah, where a rogue member of the Afghan National Army shot and killed British servicemen Sergeant Luke Taylor RM and Lance Corporal Michael Foley. Later, Mr Hammond attended a vigil at Camp Bastion to pay tribute to the two men, and to Captain Rupert Bowers - who was killed by an improvised explosive device on 21 March 2012.
Mr Hammond said:
Meeting UK Service personnel and their Afghan counterparts both inside their bases and out on patrol, I have been struck at the partnership they have forged in delivering the process of transition. It is this process which is building an Afghanistan that can stand on its own two feet which, in turn, helps to keep our own streets safe.
I have been deeply impressed by the professionalism and determination on display by those I have met and I am confident that we are on track to complete our mission in line with UK combat operations ceasing by the end of 2014.