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Volume 520: debated on Monday 13 December 2010

13. What recent progress has been made on the transition towards Afghan-led security and the withdrawal of UK forces from Afghanistan. (29889)

As I said in answer to an earlier question, the strength of the Afghan national army currently stands at around 144,000 and of the Afghan national police at around 116,000. Through continued investment in Afghan forces, we are confident that, by the end of 2014, they will be able to take the lead for security across their country.

Given that answer—that our aspiration is to withdraw from Afghanistan and that the SDSR is focused on supporting our troops over there—are we still wise to have effective cuts in our expeditionary fighting capabilities, particularly in the light of recent events in North Korea?

In terms of what is happening in Afghanistan, we have made it very clear not only that that is the primary aim of our activity in the Ministry of Defence, but that it would be unaffected by the SDSR, including that particular expeditionary capability. It is not just what the armed forces are doing that contributes to that security: the UK’s biggest direct police training effort is in Helmand, where we have 77 UK military personnel and nine MOD police improving the quality of the Afghan police, who are just as important as the Afghan national army for long-term security.

Why is the Secretary of State still in denial about the number of desertions and dismissals from the Afghan army and police being similar to the number of new recruits? Will he face up to the fact that when NATO leaves and the Afghan Government are fleeing to their boltholes in Dubai, the number of people deserting the Afghan army will increase massively?

It is the hon. Gentleman’s opinion that flies in the face of the facts. The net size of both the Afghan national army and police are increasing, as is their capability, and the governance that will ultimately determine how they are deployed is improving. There is cause for cautious optimism and it does nothing for the morale of our forces when people constantly pretend that there cannot possibly be a positive outcome in Afghanistan.