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Volume 554: debated on Monday 26 November 2012

The UK and the international community are committed to Afghanistan for the long term. As part of our enduring legacy in Afghanistan, UK troops will support the continuing development of the Afghan national security forces by mentoring trainers at the Afghan national army officer academy. In addition, it is likely that some troops will remain in a non-combat role after the end of 2014 to complete the recovery of our equipment. Beyond that, no decisions have yet been made about any longer-term UK mission in Afghanistan, but detailed planning with NATO and other allies is ongoing. We are clear, however, that we will not be involved in a combat role after 31 December 2014.

Speaking for the United Kingdom, it is not our intention to remain in a combat role after the end of 2014. That would include combat drone strikes.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that international support for Afghanistan beyond 2014 must be sufficient to send a clear message to insurgents that they cannot wait us out?

There are two audiences in this matter: the Afghan national security forces, to whom we need to send a clear signal that they will have the continuing support of the international community as they take over responsibility for security in their own country, and the Taliban—the insurgents—who need to understand that they cannot simply adopt a policy of trying to wait us out, and that we will not abandon Afghanistan but will support it as it takes over responsibility for its own security and for containing the insurgency beyond the end of 2014.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating 12th Mechanized Brigade on the degree of transition that it achieved over the summer? He will know that it will be marching to Parliament later today. How far are we are down the road to the total transition that we need to achieve by the end of 2014, and what impact is the current spate of “green on blue” attacks having on our ability to carry out that transition?

I am happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating 12 Mechanized Brigade on the considerable advances that have been made over the past six months. For all that we read in the media, and for all the siren voices attempting to tell us something different, the evidence on the ground is that steady progress is being made. Incidents of violence continue but are increasingly outside the population centres, and life in much of Helmand is increasingly returning to normal, with bazaars reopening, schools operating and health centres being constructed. Of course, the current spate of “green on blue” attacks has a significant impact, but I am confident that we will not allow it to deter us from our mission.

The Royal United Services Institute reported in September, after it had met some senior Taliban people, that the Taliban were prepared to do a deal for the continuing presence of American troops after 2014, but not prepared to do a deal with Karzai because they regard him as weak and corrupt. That would mean a return to Taliban rule in parts of Afghanistan. What is the Secretary of State doing to prepare the British public for that eventuality?

The hon. Gentleman will know, having been present at most of these exchanges, that in the 13 months for which I have been in this job I have repeatedly said that although the military dimension is important, a lasting solution in Afghanistan necessarily involves political reconciliation. As we in this country know perhaps more than anyone else in the world, reconciliation in war-torn, strife-torn countries invariably means some compromise with the people we have been fighting. There will have to be a compromise in Afghanistan if we are to get a sustainable solution.

Further to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), the Secretary of State has already reflected on the ugly and demoralising nature of so-called “green on blue” attacks. What else can be done to minimise them over the years that lie ahead?

Our commanders on the ground have already taken a significant number of steps to reduce the risk of “green on blue” attacks—to reduce the number of opportunities for the perpetration of such attacks. As we go through the cycle of transition, we will expect there to be mentoring and assistance at increasingly higher levels of command. There will be fewer and fewer instances of mentoring at tolay and even kandak level as the situation proceeds, which will in itself reduce the opportunities for such attacks.