Prime Minister David Cameron has welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Number 10 and said Britain continues to have a "strong relationship" with Afghanistan.
Speaking in a press conference with Mr Karzai, the Prime Minister said he remained “cautiously optimistic” about progress in Afghanistan and insisted the growing Afghan forces were increasingly successful and would begin to take a lead on security from this year.
“Real progress is being made every single day with our support. The Afghan government is taking greater responsibility for its own affairs.
“The build-up of the Afghan National Army is on target, it is now over 150,000 strong, the Afghan police has grown to over 117,000.
“And, while there are real challenges remaining, they are both increasingly successful national security forces.”
The Prime Minister stressed Britain was an “all-weather friend to Afghanistan not a fair-weather friend” and would remain involved in the country after troops are withdrawn in 2015.
Mr Cameron also said 2011 was a decisive year and called for “reconciliation and reintegration” for insurgents prepared to renounce violence and cut ties to Al Qaeda.
“It is time for the Taliban to start this journey and make this year the decisive year for peace in Afghanistan”.
President Karzai paid tribute to the sacrifices British troops have made while serving in Afghanistan and said he hoped Afghanistan will be a future partner rather than a burden.
During the press conference, the Prime Minister also took questions on the latest situation in Libya.
He said that the Libyan people must not be left to their fate. He said that the UK was making contact with opposition groups who have occupied Benghazi and parts of eastern Libya.
He added that Britain would step up its efforts to “isolate and pressurise” the Gaddafi regime and prevent it from using military hardware against its own people.
The Foreign Secretary joined the Prime Minister for the talks.
President Karzai’s visit to the UK comes at a pivotal time for Afghanistan. 2011 is a critical year which offers real opportunity for all those willing to build a better future for Afghanistan by consolidating military and civilian gains with renewed effort on the political process.
Alongside the rest of the international community, the UK is committed to supporting Afghan Government efforts to build on recent progress and tackle the difficult challenges ahead and make 2011 a year of reconciliation and transformation.
The next few months are also important for Afghanistan’s economic prospects, including the establishment of an IMF programme