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Kabul International Conference

Volume 515: debated on Monday 13 September 2010

8. What assessment he has made of the implications of the outcomes of the recent Kabul international conference of British troops in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement. (14525)

The importance of a co-ordinated civilian, political and military strategy was agreed by the Afghan Government and the international community at the Kabul conference. It includes a phased approach to the security-led transition of Afghan provinces from the control of the international security assistance force to that of the Afghan National Security Force, with the aim of ensuring that the Afghan forces are leading military operations across Afghanistan by the end of 2014. United Kingdom personnel are working closely with the ANSF to help it to build its capacity and capability and enable it to achieve that aim.

It is clear that one of the success stories of the Afghanistan situation is the growth and increasing competence of the Afghan security forces. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that we will hand over areas of control to Afghan forces well before 2015, and that it will be a process rather than a single event?

This is an important issue for the international community as well as the United Kingdom. It is important that, as we achieve transition in Afghanistan, we maintain the cohesion of the alliance and the international coalition as a whole. The process must therefore involve phasing out, not walking out. It is to the advantage of the entire coalition that the countries whose transition takes place in some of the easiest parts of Afghanistan find an alternative role to augment what the international coalition is doing until we are all ready to transfer fully to Afghan authority.

A quarter of the Afghan national mercenary army desert every year. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether, in the last six months, the number of new recruits has been exceeded by the number of deserters?

What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that the total target set by the Afghan Government for the Afghan national security forces has been exceeded, that the number of recruits to the Afghan national army is more than two months ahead of schedule, and that the number of people entering the Afghan national police is increasing.

I can also tell the hon. Gentleman that there is a particularly positive trend in the Afghan national police as a result of a change of policy in Kabul. The pay for those entering the national police is now the same as the amount paid to the army, which has helped to increase recruitment. Moreover, literacy lessons are now provided for those joining the Afghan national police. In a country in which literacy levels are barely above 20%, that makes a major difference to recruitment to the security forces.

Why did British Ministers choose to ignore the advice given to them on Afghanistan by our exceptionally distinguished former ambassador to Kabul, as a result of which he has asked to be transferred to other duties?

The Government take advice from a wide range of sources; we are not in Afghanistan on a unilateral basis, but as part of an international coalition. Decisions are taken jointly with those in the international community. We listen to a wide range of experience but are not always able to satisfy every opinion.