Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Afghanistan exit 'needs caution'

Brigadier Patrick Sanders has warned against a 'rush for the exit' among international forces in Afghanistan

A British commander has warned against international forces "rushing for the exit" in Afghanistan.

Brigadier Patrick Sanders, commander of 20th Armoured Brigade, said the Afghan security forces were increasingly taking charge across the British area of operations in central Helmand.

But he cautioned that the gains that had been made were not yet irreversible and that they would need until the end of 2014 when international forces are due to complete their mission.

"I think that we should be cautious in rushing for the exits," he told reporters at a briefing at the Ministry of Defence in London. "We have seen over the last six months real evidence of growing confidence and growing capability but it isn't yet irreversible."

He added: "If transition is going to stick, if we are going to deliver something that is durable post-2014, we need to maintain our commitment through until that point and then a strategic partnership beyond that."

Brig Sanders said that the brigade, which has recently returned from a six-month tour of duty, had seen an "extraordinary appetite" among the Afghans to take charge in the country. Two of the three districts in central Helmand, covering 60% of the population, were now in transition and were being run by the Afghans with no involvement from international forces.

"Once you release the Afghan genie from the bottle, once you allow their sovereignty to take over, then it becomes something that you can't control, you can't stop," he said.

"All you can do is to try to harness the energy and to try to channel it. It is a question of trying to keep up with the Afghans rather than trying to push them."

While there had been a 47% reduction in violence in the area over the past 12 months, he warned there was likely to be a "spike" in Taliban attacks in the coming weeks, once the harvest was over, although he did not believe it could be sustained.

"Afghan-led actions have now driven the insurgents out from the populated areas, out into the desert and they continue to drive them further and further back and take the fight to the insurgents," he said. "What that has meant is that the insurgents are now completely disconnected from the people. They have to commute to work and they struggle to do so."

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