UK Defence Secretary — why we are in Afghanistan

Fol­low­ing the loss of six sol­diers in Afghanistan this week, Defence Sec­re­tary Philip Ham­mond writes about why we are in Afghanistan and what is being achieved there.

The Sec­re­tary of State for Defence, Philip Ham­mond [Pic­ture: Har­land Quar­ring­ton, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

The brave men and women who defend this nation know they can­not do their job with­out being in harm’s way. It is what they are trained and equipped for. But noth­ing can tru­ly pre­pare fam­i­ly and friends for the loss of a loved one. 

Every death, every injury, reminds us of the human cost to ser­vice in the Armed Forces. The shock­ing loss of British lives this week — the worst for many years — under­stand­ably rais­es ques­tions about the con­tin­ued pres­ence of UK forces in Afghanistan; about why we are there and what we are achieving. 

I am clear about the answers to those ques­tions: the mis­sion is nec­es­sary for nation­al secu­ri­ty. UK forces, and troops from 49 oth­er nations, are pre­vent­ing Afghanistan again being used by Al-Qae­da and oth­er ter­ror­ists as a base to plan attacks against the UK and our allies. We are fight­ing there to pre­vent them attack­ing us here. 

Of course, address­ing the ter­ror­ist threat in Afghanistan is not the whole solu­tion, any more than the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pak­istan has extin­guished Al-Qae­da. But we have got to make sure that Afghanistan is secure and that the ter­ror­ists who thrive in chaos can­not re-estab­lish their pre‑9/11 train­ing camps. 

The rein­vig­o­ra­tion of cam­paign strat­e­gy in the last few years is achiev­ing our aims — build­ing the capa­bil­i­ty of the Afghan Gov­ern­ment to main­tain its own secu­ri­ty, and by exten­sion pro­tect ours. 

“I under­stand it when peo­ple ques­tion our con­tin­ued pres­ence in Afghanistan … But our nation­al secu­ri­ty requires us to see the job through.”
Philip Hammond

We’re not there to impose a west­ern lib­er­al democ­ra­cy in Afghanistan, but an endur­ing solu­tion in Afghanistan that meets the needs of UK nation­al secu­ri­ty and must encom­pass all its dif­fer­ent peo­ples. Secu­ri­ty must be linked with progress on devel­op­ment and gov­er­nance, and, cru­cial­ly, with a sus­tain­able polit­i­cal set­tle­ment. But, to be suc­cess­ful, the Afghan Gov­ern­ment must be able to nego­ti­ate from a posi­tion of strength. 

Build­ing up the strength of the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces [ANSF] is a cen­tral part of this. We are train­ing them, men­tor­ing them, oper­at­ing along­side them, and then steadi­ly draw­ing back as their capa­bil­i­ty improves. As they step up, we can step back. 

This strat­e­gy is demon­stra­bly work­ing. The ANSF are now over 320,000-strong and well on course to meet their full strength tar­gets. There remain spe­cif­ic chal­lenges, but the capa­bil­i­ty and qual­i­ty of ANSF per­son­nel is improv­ing all the time. This has enabled the Afghans to take lead respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty pro­vi­sion for about half of the pop­u­la­tion of Afghanistan. 

The Afghan Gov­ern­ment is prepar­ing to announce the next tranche of tran­si­tion, demon­strat­ing both the suc­cess of the process and their com­mit­ment to tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for their own security. 

Cen­tral Hel­mand, where the major­i­ty of British troops oper­ate, is a par­tic­u­lar suc­cess sto­ry. Despite the ter­ri­ble events of this week, the over­all trend of suc­cess­ful attacks and UK casu­al­ty num­bers are sharply down. 

“Walk­ing away is not an option. I know that our nation will con­tin­ue to stand by our Armed Forces and the sac­ri­fices they and their fam­i­lies make.”
Philip Hammond

By mid-2013, the Afghans are expect­ed to be lead­ing secu­ri­ty pro­vi­sion across the whole of the coun­try, with ISAF in sup­port. By the end of 2014 British troops will be able to end their com­bat role com­plete­ly. British troops will remain to train the ANSF, but in much few­er num­bers. And we will help to finance the Afghan forces as part of the inter­na­tion­al effort. 

The insur­gency remains a nation­wide threat, capa­ble of under­min­ing progress, and parts of Hel­mand itself remain dan­ger­ous and some­times dead­ly as this week’s events have shown. So I under­stand it when peo­ple ques­tion our con­tin­ued pres­ence in Afghanistan and want the sac­ri­fice being made by our Armed Forces to come to an end immediately. 

But our nation­al secu­ri­ty requires us to see the job through and we owe it to the all-too-many who have sac­ri­ficed their lives to see this mis­sion suc­cess­ful­ly con­clud­ed. This is a volatile region from which threats to Britain and our allies may con­tin­ue to emerge. 

Walk­ing away is not an option. I know that our nation will con­tin­ue to stand by our Armed Forces and the sac­ri­fices they and their fam­i­lies make. 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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