In a written statement to Parliament the Foreign Secretary said:
I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the third progress report on developments in Afghanistan.
The report focuses on key developments during the month of January.
January saw a greater tempo of operations than in previous winters because of the high number of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers and Afghan security forces, the milder than usual weather and the insurgents’ continued attempts to intimidate the population through asymmetric attacks. Attacks such as the suicide bombing of a Kabul supermarket on 28 January and the assassination of the Deputy Governor of Kandahar Province by a suicide bomber on 29 January show that the insurgency has little respect for the safety of civilians or legitimate governance.
ISAF will continue to seek to protect the population from such acts and build up Afghan security forces to ensure that they are ready to take responsibility for security across the country by the end of 2014. Progress continues to be made in developing the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). By the middle of January the Afghan National Army (ANA) had reached a total of around 149,500 personnel and the Afghan National Police (ANP) around 117,000. Both are still on track to meet the targets agreed at the London Conference in January 2010.
ISAF’s monthly assessment in January highlighted progress in several provinces, including central Helmand. ISAF confirmed that security transition remains on track to begin early this year. President Karzai said that he intends to announce the first phase of transition in his Afghan New Year address in March. The new Afghan Parliament was inaugurated on
26 January, marking the completion of the 2010 electoral process. The new parliamentarians convened for the first time on 29 January and began the process of electing a new Speaker.
On 1 January the Helmand Provincial Government and elders from the Alikhozai from the Upper Sangin Valley agreed a peace accord. The Helmand Provincial Government is working to establish a 15-man shura of elders who can represent local communities to consolidate and expand the agreement. Helmand provincial governor, Gulab Mangal, also established a five-man provincial reintegration secretariat to support the delivery of reintegration policy across Helmand.
The UK, through the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), supported a three-day conference in Lashkar Gah for 85 community elders and mullahs from seven districts to learn about the relationship between community-based and statutory justice systems.
In January, 984 communities elected community development councils that support local community-driven development projects. DFID contributes to the Government of Afghanistan’s community-driven development projects in rural and insecure areas. 1,431 project proposals were approved in January, and 372 projects were completed. These included improvements to water supplies and sanitation, the building of rural roads, the rebuilding of irrigation networks and electricity generation. Over 1,000 Sangin residents, nearly a third of them women, took part in a health education event in Sangin District Centre. The Helmand PRT provided Afghan health workers with 8,000 home medical kits to distribute during such health training events.
Members of the High Peace Council, leading the Afghan Government’s reintegration and reconciliation strategy, visited Islamabad in January. They discussed Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace efforts with Pakistani leaders.
The drugs trade remains a threat to the stability of Afghanistan, has a corrosive effect on governance and provides financial and logistical support to the insurgency. Progress is being made on counter-narcotics: the first 50 Afghan interdiction operations of 2011 seized 1,985kg opium, 61kg heroin, 1197kg cannabis and 338kg chemical precursors. Fifty eight suspects were arrested. Additionally, almost a tonne of bomb-making equipment was found during these operations: a clear reminder of the links between the insurgency and the drugs trade.