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UK 'not walking away from Afghans'

Britain and its allies will not be "walking away" from Afghanistan despite the withdrawal of military forces, David Cameron said as he urged the country to press ahead with political and social reforms.

The Prime Minister was addressing the close of a major international conference on the future of the country ahead of the pull-out of Nato forces at the end of the year.

He paid tribute to the UK military personnel killed during the 13-year war but insisted there had been "remarkable progress" - including the creation of a 330,000-strong "capable, determined" Afghan security force.

But he said much work remained to be done by the new government of national unity run by president Ashraf Ghani - which also includes his defeated rival Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive.

Both were taking part in the conference along with US secretary of state John Kerry and regional players including Pakistan's prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

"The road ahead will not be easy," Mr Cameron said. "I know a little of what it's like working in coalition, and how hard it is taking long-term decisions in the national interest."

He went on: "While many of our troops have gone home, we will not be walking away. This is not just vital for the future security of Afghanistan; it is vital for the security of us all."

The PM said that securing the private investment needed alongside the foreign aid promised by the UK and other countries would require action to end corruption and to show Afghan institutions were "strong and accountable".

But it was also vital, he added, to create an "inclusive society", notably one in which women were able to play a full role.

Mr Ghani said he accepted that women were "key to our future" but appealed for financial help to set up a university and colleges and training programmes. "Citizenship cannot be got right while excluding half the society," he said.

The majority of British military personnel have now left Afghanistan, with a few hundred servicemen and women remaining in advisory, logistical and support roles, helping the Afghan army.

The scale of the task still facing Afghanistan was underlined in the Commons yesterday as the Prime Minister paid tribute to the British Embassy staff killed in a bomb attack in Kabul last week.

Five people, including a British citizen, died in the incident after a suicide car-bomber struck an embassy vehicle, one of a series of attacks staged by Taliban insurgents across Afghanistan in the run-up to the official end of the US and Nato combat mission on December 31.

Mr Kerry said Afghanistan stood at a crucial moment in its history and told the conference: "Together we can write a very different future" for the country. Urging the international community to provide the necessary backing, he said countries attending the conference "have been and must continue to be generous in our financial commitments".

Mr Cameron told Mr Ghani the UK would be "with you every step of the way" in the military and political transition.

"Afghanistan, if the right decisions are made, can have a bright economic future and we will be there using our aid budget, our expertise, our training partnership with you, our economic partnership with you, to help in any way we can to build the prosperity and the security for the future.

"We want you to succeed, for your sake but for our sake too."

Paying tribute to the 453 British service personnel who died in Afghanistan, Mr Ghani said: " I want to assure their parents and their loved ones that their sacrifice is not going to be in vain.

"Because we are determined to overcome the past, to build a future worthy of the aspirations of our people."

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