"It is possible to succeed in Afghanistan"

Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke to BBC news about progress in Afghanistan following his statement to Parliament earlier today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon William Hague

Female Presenter: Well speaking in the Commons earlier today the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said it wasn’t possible to withdraw coalition troops before the Afghan forces could lead their own operations. Well Mr Hague joins us from Westminster now, a very good afternoon to you.

William Hague: Good afternoon.

Female Presenter: Do you agree with Mr Gorbachev that victory in Afghanistan is impossible?

WH: Well we’ve never, we’ve never argued that a military only solution, just a purely military victory, is possible in Afghanistan, what we’ve always wanted to see is a political process that is supported by those military efforts to bring eventually a political settlement to Afghanistan. That’s been, always been our position and, indeed, to be fair to them the position of the previous Government in this country.

Now the other, the other thing I’d point out about what Mr Gorbachev has said is that this is a different situation from the Soviet Union trying to impose its will on Afghanistan. This is forty eight countries now contributing troops in Afghanistan under a United Nations’ mandate, at the request of the Afghan Government, a democratically elected Government. So we’re not trying to impose our will on Afghanistan we’re trying to let the people of Afghanistan determine their own future and that’s a very different situation.

Female Presenter: So a victory of some sort though not purely military is possible?

WH: It is possible to succeed in Afghanistan yes and it remains phenomenally difficult and, and really running throughout my statement in the House of Commons today I was stressing that there are some really big challenges to come, that the number of violent incidents is more likely to rise than fall in the weeks and months ahead as we take on the insurgency in more areas. But at the same time we do have to recognise good news when we see it. So the Afghan forces themselves are becoming more capable, that parts of Helmand where British forces are operating are now more within the control of the Afghan Government and the, and the security forces than they have been for a long time. So we mustn’t just listen to the bad news.

Female Presenter: I just wonder what your reaction is to Mr Gorbachev’s comments and the constant, sort of, comparisons drawn with Vietnam. Are his comments helpful in any way and do you recognise any parallel between what’s going on in Afghanistan at the moment and what happened in Vietnam?

WH: No I don’t think it is a parallel because we are in a quite different situation here for some of the reasons I was outlining before. And I think what people often don’t understand now is the, is the extent of the support of the international community now for the Government of Afghanistan, for it taking on its own responsibilities, building up its own economy.

At the Kabul Conference in July, which I attended, more than seventy countries were there giving support in varying ways for the Government of Afghanistan. Now that is in no way a parallel to what we saw in Vietnam in the Sixties or, indeed, in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Female Presenter: So regardless of how much support from how many different countries the fact is, as you said earlier in the Commons today, that British troops, coalition troops won’t be able to pull out until Afghan forces can lead their own operations. Is that on track?

WH: It’s on track, in fact the, the (indistinct) the building up of the Afghan National Security Forces is slightly ahead of track this year, I’m not saying that will continue, but there are now two hundred and sixty thousand people in the Afghan National Security Forces, more than half of those in the army and that army will be built up further over the course of the next year. They are starting to conduct more operations of their own and so it will be built up and the, and the goal is that by 2014 they will be able to lead and sustain military operations in all of the provinces of Afghanistan. And then, of course, we’re in a quite different situation.

Female Presenter: Even though we’re still hearing that fifty per cent of some Police units are still failing drugs tests, fifty nine per cent of some units in the Afghan Army which, supposedly, is better, don’t turn up?

WH: There’s an important difference between the Afghan National Army and the Police, there have been much bigger problems in building up the Police, in freeing them of corruption and the other problems that you describe but a lot of good training work is now taking place. I gave the figures earlier to the Commons of the dramatic increase in the number of non commissioned officers being trained in the Army, the training of the Police as well. Still big challenges to come, I don’t minimise those in any way in training the Afghan forces in matters such as intelligence gathering, logistics, in engineering, in having Military Police skills. So really an enormous amount to do but it’s wrong to think that we’re not making any progress at all.

Female Presenter: And when Mr Gorbachev was talking about withdrawal and the problems they encountered when they were pulling their troops out does that make you feel slightly nervous about what’s ahead?

WH: Well it underlines the importance of what I’ve just been talking about, of building up the Afghan National Security Forces to being, by the way they will end up being one of the largest armies in the world. That is the, that is what we’re engaged on here, so that they can look after their own security without presenting a danger to the rest of the world. And, again, that is a different strategy from that pursued by the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Female Presenter: Okay Foreign Secretary thanks very much indeed for your time this afternoon, thank you.

Published 27 October 2010