Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Hammond hails Afghan 'process'

The start of an Afghan-led peace settlement with the Taliban is vital to ensure the war-torn country is stable after the withdrawal of British troops

Afghanistan not being perfect is no reason for Britain not to be proud of its achievements there, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said.

Mr Hammond acknowledged there was significant corruption in the Afghan government but said things were improving.

And he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Turning Afghanistan from a completely ungoverned space with no ability of the government in Kabul to project its authority at all, no security forces to speak of, utterly dependent on short term, Western combat interventions...

"We have now got a situation where international forces are able to draw down, the Afghan security forces are delivering working security on the ground and there is an elected government in Kabul - where there is a presidential election due next year, which will elect a new one with a different president. I think that's progress."

Mr Hammond rejected suggestions his optimistic outlook was "Pollyanna" and denied Afghanistan is likely to return to civil war.

The Defence Select Committee has warned there is little the UK can do to influence the future of Afghanistan once its forces pull out next year, and there is the real possibility the country will descend into full-blown civil war within a few years.

"I completely accept nobody can say with certainty what the future for Afghanistan will be, but what I can say is that the future of Afghanistan will have to be determined by the Afghan people. What we have done is give them that opportunity," Mr Hammond said.

The Defence Secretary added: "It was always clear this could not be an open ended intervention. We had to create the conditions where we would eventually be able to withdraw and allow the Afghans to maintain their own security so our security was protected. While the situation is not perfect we have come a long way to being able to deliver that objective."

The Government needs to be clearer about its plans for Afghanistan, according to shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy.

The Labour MP said: "This is a stark and serious warning. Significant progress has been made but it is not irreversible. Concerns over Afghan military capabilities after coalition forces' withdrawal need to be answered. It is absolutely vital Afghans lead on delivering lasting security but people will want confidence in Afghan capabilities and clarity as to the long-term nature of the UK's defence commitment."

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