Speech

Afghanistan and the Taliban: Foreign Secretary's interview on Sky news

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Sky news interviewed Foreign Secretary William Hague on Afghanistan and military pressure on the Taliban.

Colin Brazier: As promised we can talk to William Hague who joins us now live from Westminster. Foreign Secretary, a very good morning to you.

William Hague: Good morning.

CB: The Taliban make a claim in Stuart Ramsay, Ramsay’s report there that UK citizens are the biggest financial sponsors of the Taliban. How much credence do you give that claim?

WH: Well I think we’ve got to remember looking at a report like that that these are people who are setting out to kill British troops and, and to defeat the NATO forces in Afghanistan and sometimes they have proved quite adept at using communication and, and the communications of the Western world to try to use those communications against us; they are good at propaganda. And so I think we always have to bear that in mind, hearing any account like that, looking at any film like that. As was noted at the end there it’s, it’s impossible for you to verify the, or to determine the truth of the claims that were made.

So it’s quite a bold claim. If there was any evidence of that of course, we would be acting on that. If we do obtain any evidence, and indeed if Sky News obtains any direct evidence of that, it is evidence that we would want to investigate thoroughly.

CB: One thing we can all agree on, I’m sure you, you would agree yourself, is that the Taliban are painfully adept at planting these improvised explosive devices.

To what extent is it the case do you think that we can’t fight that using helicopters at five thousand feet, it needs troops on the ground, it needs boots on the ground, you need to own the ground itself?

Now you can’t do that with the relatively small number of troops we have and, accepting that yes, only this week we learned that the MoD will keep the Afghanistan effort going at its current levels, British forces are actually being reduced by seven thousand troops.

And we heard within this hour some parents of a, a Serviceman blown up by an IED really worried about that; people are really worried that our troops out there are not getting all they need to tackle the Taliban.

WH: Well I certainly hope and believe they, they are getting what they need. It’s really only in recent months as the ISAF forces have been built up, there has been the surge of, of US forces as people will remember, it’s only in recent months that General Petraeus and the other senior generals have had the forces, all the forces, that they have asked for in Afghanistan, and that includes the ten thousand British forces who are, who are absolutely unaffected in their operations by any of the announcements we’ve made about the defence budget this week.

And so I do detect, certainly talking to General Petraeus last week, a real sense of progress in recent months and weeks, of military progress. I think the Taliban are under serious pressure. Kunar Province that you are filming there remains one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan but I notice although it was said at the beginning there were no ISAF forces in that region at the end the meeting came to an end because of the approach, possible approach, of ISAF forces. And the Taliban are under a lot of pressure, and that is one of the reasons they want to make some bold claims.

On IEDs the Prime Minister announced in June considerably heavy expenditures, more than sixty million pounds of additional expenditure on countering IEDs. These are the main threats to our forces, the, the weapon of choice of the Taliban, so we are spending a lot on improving the protection of vehicles and having some remote control vehicles and of course a lot of military effort goes in to detecting and disrupting the networks that make the, make and plant the IEDs.

CB: General Petraeus, you mentioned him there, he told us last week when he was in London that we are talking to the Taliban. To what extent are we, the British, helping to facilitate those peace talks with the Taliban and what concessions in very broad terms, accepting you can’t go in to, in to specifics, can we offer?

WH: Well look it, it’s not about concessions because we’ve all been clear, including the Afghan …

CB: Well of course it is, it’s, we, if we’re negotiating with them we’re obviously giving something up.

WH: We’ve all been clear, including the Afghan Government, that Taliban, members of the Taliban who want to talk are going to have to renounce violence, cut their ties with organisations like al Qaeda, respect the Afghan constitution. And there are Taliban who are being reintegrated on that basis. It’s an Afghan led process, the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan, but we and NATO can provide practical help in that but it’s an Afghan led process. And, and on the practical help of course I can’t comment on the, on the operational details of that.

CB: You mentioned the threat from the air which made these particular insurgents that we’re looking at now scatter and run for cover. It’s argued, isn’t it, that the drone programme at the moment that’s been sanctioned by Barack Obama no less is proving very successful at claiming the lives of senior Taliban commanders and may be forcing them to the negotiating table.

Parallels have even been drawn to some degree with events in Northern Ireland of fifteen years or so ago.

Do you have a sense that that’s happening? Is that drone campaign working? Is it forcing the Taliban to sue for peace?

WH: Well I wouldn’t say that’s the drone campaign on its own. The Taliban are under a lot of military pressure now, there are huge numbers of ISAF forces, particularly in the South of Afghanistan. They have been establishing better control of many areas, including now areas around Kandahar that have been very heavily fought over. So they are under a lot of military pressure, yes from drone attacks sometimes, but also from more ISAF forces on the ground, also from the operations of Special Forces and so on. So they’re under that intense pressure. Now that on its own does not guarantee that they will all want to negotiate by any means, but it may increase the chances that some of them wish to do so.

So I don’t want to raise expectations about that, but clearly there is, it’s necessary to have a political process as well as a military process. There isn’t a military only solution to what is happening in Afghanistan, there needs to be a political process as well, and it may be that coming under intense military pressure encourages some of them to join that process.

CB: William Hague, I know you’ve got some very pressing engagements this morning so we appreciate your time. Thanks very much indeed …

WH: Thank you.