UK commander praises Afghan forces
Afghan security forces have "flourished" as they have taken the lead in Helmand Province but British troops still face a significant threat, a senior British military commander has said.
Brigadier Rupert Jones, who has just handed over the role of Task Force Helmand Commander, said Afghan security forces no longer need help from ISAF forces on a day-to-day basis.
Brig Jones, commander of 1st Mechanised Brigade, said 2013 had proved an important summer, with Afghans growing in confidence and maintaining the initiative against insurgents.
He said: " 2013 was important. The insurgents recognised that and they undoubtedly made a concerted effort through the summer of 2013, primarily against the Afghans.
" I would say they (the Afghan security forces) have overcome their nervousness throughout the summer.
"I would say that they have flourished in their own independence. I think it's been our stepping back that has allowed them to graduate onto the next level.
"The reality is the Afghans don't need our assistance day to day," he said, which he said had allowed ISAF to speed up the pace of transition.
"There's still assistance the Afghans need but it's not on the ground day-to-day. "
Brig Jones paid tribute to Britain's armed forces, including the latest serviceman to lose his life in Afghanistan - Lance Corporal James Brynin, 22, of the Intelligence Corps, was shot dead last week while on patrol.
He said it was not the case that British soldiers are "sitting back in their bases not doing very much", adding: "For as long as we are forward in Helmand we have got to be prepared to protect ourselves.
"They still face a very significant threat, that manifested itself last week. It is, indeed, a very challenging environment."
British soldiers faced the "uncomfortable" situation of having to "hand off control".
"The stage we are at with our soldiers and our commanders is pretty uncomfortable because they are handing off control," he said.
"The British public is extremely proud of their courage, the British public is extremely proud of their sacrifice, but I would say the British public should be proud of their achievement. The achievement is palatable.
"Helmand is transformed from only a couple of years ago and our soldiers definitely realise that.
" There are of course challenges ahead, no-one would suggest otherwise, but this was a pretty important summer for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and we are in the dying days of that fighting season and they have held the initiative, held the momentum all the way through.
"ISAF has been an important power broker in Afghanstan for a long time and as we step back that balance has to resettle. My sense is that it is resettling in the Government and ANSF's favour."
Speaking from Afghanistan, Lieutenant General John Lorimer, ISAF deputy commander, said the credibility of the ANSF was "definitely growing" but work still needed to be done to ensure it could endure beyond 2014.
He said over the summer the Afghan security forces had stopped insurgents from controlling populated areas or key terrain, and the majority of violence had taken place away from populated areas.
"Most of the population of this country continue to have a negative view of the insurgency and they don't want the Taliban to return to power," he said.
"I have absolutely no doubt that the ANSF will emerge from this fighting season both confident in themselves and credible in the eyes of the Afghan people."
Catriona Laing, former head of Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) said the province was "unrecognisable", with 61% of schools open; school enrolment doubling since 2008, including a quarter made up of girls compared to zero in 2006.
She said elected local officials were vital in holding authorities to account and people's changing expectations mean the Taliban was no longer offering something they wanted.
Ms Laing said she thought the changes were sustainable in Afghanistan, especially in Helmand, adding: "We have presented the people of Helmand with an opportunity. They have grabbed it enthusiastically, confidently, they are running with it.
"We have got to step back, this is uncomfortable but we have forced ourselves to do that to enable the Afghans to take ownership.
"That opportunity is there but it's now in their hands for the future."