I wish to inform the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, together with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, is today publishing the 28th progress report on developments in Afghanistan since November 2010.
Voter registration ahead of the 2014 presidential and provincial elections was begun as expected on 26 May. Women make up 50% of the voter registration teams. Phase 1 focused on 41 registration centres across all 34 provinces. Limited progress was made on the passage of two important pieces of legislation which will form the structural basis of the electoral system used for the 2014 and 2015 electoral cycle.
As the fighting season intensifies, we have seen an increase in enemy-initiated and spectacular attacks, particularly in the east, west and north of the country. Nevertheless, violence levels within central Helmand appear lower than at the same point in the fighting season last year and the ANSF are holding firm. The ANSF responded well to attacks on the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Kabul and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Jalalabad.
On 8 May, the Prime Minister confirmed in Parliament that UK force levels will be reduced to around 7,900 by the end of May, and to around 5,200 by the end of 2013, in line with security transition and progress on the ground.
On 15 May the NATO military chiefs of defence met and endorsed the concept of operations for the post-2014 NATO train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan. Their advice to NATO Defence Ministers recognises the initial requirement for a regional approach to security.
On 14 May the Defence Secretary announced that some UK forces deploying to Afghanistan this October on Herrick 19 will serve up to eight months, rather than the usual six-month tours. In addition some personnel deploying on Herrick 20 in June 2014 may be required to serve up to nine months, to complete redeployment activity in Afghanistan should it continue into 2015. This will help to align our presence with key milestones between now and the end of 2014, such as the presidential elections and help to maintain operational continuity. Those personnel affected by the extended tours will be compensated from the 7.5 month point through the new Herrick draw-down allowance of £50 per day before tax.
This will be paid on top of the standard operational allowance package (except for those in receipt of campaign continuity allowance).
I am placing the report in the Library of the House. It will also be published on the gov.uk website www.gov.uk/government/publications/afghanistan-progress-report-May-2013.