"Role of British Forces crucial" in Afghanistan

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

The Foreign Secretary was interviewed by British Forces Broadcast Service (BFBS) about the role of British troops in Afghanistan.

Female Interviewer: Well the Prime Minister said yesterday in America that troop withdrawal would start as early as next year. Today his deputy, Nick Clegg, has said there would be no combat troops in theatre by 2015 but Liam Fox has previously said that British soldiers would be the last to leave. Why is there so much confusion over this end date in Afghanistan?

William Hague: Well we’re all saying the same thing, as the Prime Minister has said, that there won’t be British troops conducting combat operations or there in significant numbers in five years time, so we’re all saying that very clearly. And we’re saying, secondly, that one of the reasons for that is that all the plans are for the Afghan National Security Forces to be able to stand up on their own by 2014, so we are within that, that’s within the next five years.

And what the Prime Minister was simply saying yesterday was, he wasn’t ruling out the sort of draw down of troops would start earlier than that but he stressed that depends on the conditions on the ground. What we have to get to is that strength of the Afghan Security Forces by 2014. And if you look at what we’re all saying, we’re all saying the same thing and I think actually that gives some certainty for the future for people in the Forces because they can see that is the time horizon.

Female Interviewer: Why’s this Government even talking dates though? The last Government didn’t, they very much steered clear of it? And do you not think that, that it does cause some confusion for the families and, and for the troops of will they deploy, won’t they deploy, will they be needed in a couple of years, won’t they?

WH: No I don’t think it causes a confuse, in a way it’s less confusion because we’re saying look we’ve been four years in Helmand already, that we might be there for another five years but within that five years we won’t be there in combat operations. I think, actually, that is something that many people in the, in the Forces will welcome knowing that that is the sort of time horizon.

And actually once we’ve been there for nine years, you know, well then that’s probably long enough for the British Army to be deployed in combat operations particularly as our whole objective is for the Afghan Security Forces to be able to take on responsibility for their own country and to provide, therefore, for the security of that country and our country indirectly. So I think that’s, I think it’s less confusion rather than more.

Female Interviewer: Is it feasible that the Afghan troops will be in a position to hold this security within this time scale though?

WH: Well I think so. At the moment they’re ahead of schedule on the numbers of troops in the Afghan Army, they, they were meant to hit the figure of a hundred and thirty four thousand by this coming October actually that figure has already been attained. And by next October they should be up to one hundred and seventy one thousand.

Now as we all know it depends on the quality as well as the quantity but that is why so much of our work going forward is embedded partnering with the Afghan Forces, working with them and, of course that things can go wrong as we know, as we’ve seen, when that happens. But many, many things go right and the, the work together of the British and Afghan Forces is fundamental to the future and it’s fundamental to our Forces no longer being needed there in the future.

Female Interviewer: Do you not think there’s a risk though that the Taliban will just sit and wait until 2014 - 2015, may be even be infiltrating the Afghan National Security Forces and then once the NATO troops have gone come back with a vengeance?

WH: Well I don’t think so because what we’re looking at there is a very large Afghan National Army and hopefully a much improved Police Force as well and, of course, the, the Afghans have one advantage that we don’t have which is that they are Afghans, that they are not foreign intruders, as it might be depicted. And so by 2014 if the fighting’s still continuing the Taliban will be up against a very large and formidable army of Afghans. And so I think that is a crucial point.

And the other crucial point is that while that military work is going on, and that work is indispensible, the work that our Forces and the Forces of our allies do, what we’ve been seeing at the Kabul Conference this week that I attended is the building up of the Afghan state is going on with, with Afghans planning a better economic future, a good education system and so on. And that, of course, is part of the answer as well.

Female Interviewer: How confident are you personally right now in Hamid Karzai?

WH: Well I’m confident he is genuine about achieving the goals that were agreed at the Kabul Conference. Does he have his faults? Of course, we all do as politicians, so do I, but he’s the President of Afghanistan, I’ve had many good discussions with him including this week in Kabul. He’s very committed to the goals set out at the conference and we’ve taken up with him many times the extent of corruption, the need to do more and he has agreed to do more at the Kabul Conference; to, to pass new laws which prohibit the relatives of Ministers or Afghan MPs from serving in the tax system. And, you know, there is quite a lot now going on, much more needs to be done, but I do think he is genuine about achieving the goals that we’ve agreed this week and it will help our Forces enormously if the Afghans do achieve those goals.

Female Interviewer: How do you expect that come 2015 we might look back on this period in Afghanistan?

WH: Well I hope we will say we made it possible for Afghans to look after their own security without presenting a danger to the rest of the world because I think our objective can be summarised as simply as that. That’s what we are there for; to get to a situation where they can look after their own security without being a danger to us, to our friends and families and allies, that’s what our Forces are fighting for and that’s a very, very important goal. So I hope we can look back and say that and that we were crucial in achieving it and there is no doubt that the, the role of British Forces is crucial.

Female Interviewer: Okay thank you very much.

WH: Thank you.