The UK's Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has paid tribute to the skills and sacrifices of British troops serving in Afghanistan during a visit to the country this week.
Mr Hague was in Afghanistan on a joint visit with the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. During their three-day visit, the ministers discussed progress with the Afghan Government and reinforced the international coalition’s continuing commitment to Afghanistan.
In Kabul, the ministers held talks with President Karzai and Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul. Their discussions were focused on Afghan efforts on the political process, including reconciliation, as well as recent progress against the insurgency and on wider governance and development.
They also discussed the handover of responsibility for security to Afghan forces in seven areas of Afghanistan which will take place next month.
Speaking in Kabul, Mr Hague noted encouraging signs of progress, and reiterated the UK’s commitment to a long-term partnership with Afghanistan based on diplomacy, trade and development. He said:
By 2015, there will be no UK troops in Afghanistan in combat roles, but we will continue to work closely with the Afghan Government and people for many years to come.
While challenges remain considerable, it has been good to see positive changes in places like Lashkar Gah, as well as discernible economic progress being made across the country.
Now there is more to do in the areas of security and reconciliation, in building up economic success and fighting corruption.
Mr Hague also welcomed Afghan efforts towards a sustainable political settlement and called on all countries, particularly those in the region, to support this.
The ministers also visited Helmand province where most of the UK military and civilian effort in Afghanistan is based, as well as UAE forces.
Whilst in Helmand province, the ministers visited Lashkar Gah’s security command centre, from where Afghan security forces are already leading on security across much of the city.
Whilst in Lashkar Gah they held talks with Helmand Governor Mangal and met Provincial Reconstruction Team members and their military colleagues who are working with the Governor to develop security and stability across Helmand province.
At Camp Bastion, the ministers also met members of the UK and UAE Armed Forces who are working in Helmand as part of the 48-nation international military coalition in Afghanistan.
Mr Hague said:
At Lashkar Gah’s Operational Command and Coordination Centre I got a very real sense of the advances Afghan security forces are making in Helmand. The centre leads on security in central Lashkar Gah with UK and international partners’ support; this role will continue to develop throughout transition.
Undoubtedly there will be difficulties ahead, but the confident Afghan security leadership I was able to witness is greatly encouraging, not only for Afghanistan’s security but also for our own.