6 Transition and withdrawal|
158. The Lisbon Summit in November 2011 declared
that the ISAF mission in Afghanistan was NATO's key priority.
It confirmed that there would be a gradual process of transferring
security responsibility for districts and provinces from ISAF
Forces to those of the ANSF. This transition would begin in 2011
and would be conditions-based and that ISAF troops would remain
in a supportive role in those areas where responsibility had been
transferred. The transition to full responsibility for security
across Afghanistan should be completed by the end of 2014.
159. Following transition, the role of ISAF will
then change to meet critical security, training and mentoring
requirements. The international civilian effort including that
of the PRTs will evolve and enable greater Afghan capacity and
160. President Karzai is adamant that the ANSF should
assume security responsibility for Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
He also expects that the responsibilities of the PRT will also
be transferred to Afghan authorities by the end of 2014. On 22
March 2011, President Karzai announced that the seven districts
and provinces which will begin the process of transition in July
2011. One of these seven is Lashkar Gah, Helmand.
161. The UK Prime Minister has called for UK troops
to be out of the combat role in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
He confirmed that this was a firm deadline after the Lisbon Summit.
We feel that the following exchange between the Prime Minister
and the Chair of the Defence Committee at the Liaison Committee
sets out very clearly the Government's position on withdrawal
Q126 Mr Arbuthnot: Prime Minister,
can I come back to that plan B? Let's suppose that the targets
that President Karzai has set himself and the targets that we
all want to see achieved are not achieved. Do we nevertheless
withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan, come hell or high water?
Mr Cameron: I am not contemplating
us not having a successful strategy, but I will be as clear as
I possibly can. I said very clearly that I did not want us to
have combat troops or troops in large numbers in Afghanistan by
2015 for a very good reason, which is this. We have been in Afghanistan
since 2001. We have been in Helmand since 2006. Britain, by 2015,
will have played a huge role, made a massive contribution, made
massive sacrifices for a better, safer and stronger Afghanistan,
and I think the British public deserve to know that there is an
end point to thisthere is a point at which we won't be
in a combat role or have large numbers of troops.
That is why I set the deadline of 2015;
and yes, it is a deadline. I think deadlines sometimes help to
focus minds: help to focus the mind of the Afghan Government that
we have to make progress, help to focus the mind of the military
planners to know that this cannot go on forever. In my judgment,
that's the right approach for the United Kingdom. We are five
years away from that point. We have a huge amount of effort to
give, and we will put our shoulders to the wheel. We are the second
biggest troop contributor; we are making an extraordinary contribution
to that country in all sorts of ways, including aid, as we've
discussed. But I think the British public deserve to know that
there is an end point to all this, it is 2015 and that's clear.
Q127 Mr Arbuthnot: Why
do you take this view in relation to Afghanistan when you didn't
take it in relation to Iraq?
Mr Cameron: I'm in the position
now of taking responsibility for what we are doing in Afghanistan,
and in the end you have to make a judgment, as Prime Minister,
on what strategy you want to set and whether you want to set a
time limit on it, and I've taken the decision that we should.
They are different situations in Iraq and
Afghanistan. I think I've given a pretty clear answer. We've already
been in Helmand for four years. By the time we are not in a combat
role and with much reduced troop levels, it will be more like
nine years. That is a massive contribution to the security of
that country, and I think we should use the fact that we have
given so much, spent so much and lost so much life to encourage
others in NATO and our trusted partners to make sure that, even
if they can't be in a combat role, they are in that training mission,
they are helping that country.
Let me just make one more thing clear. Yes,
of course we won't be in a combat role; we won't have anything
like the troops that we have now. But should Britain go on having
a relationship with Afghanistan where we're helping that country,
helping train its military, helping support its Treasury, helping
build its capacity? Yes. Because I think we learned the lesson
in the past of walking away from Afghanistan. I'm not proposing
that, but I think the British public deserve to know that our
young men will not go on in the situation they are forever.
Q128 Mr Arbuthnot: So
you said what you said in Canada in order to reassure the British
public. Was there some pressure coming upon you from the British
public to make such a statement?
Mr Cameron: No, it's not that
This is what I feel, having looked at the defence arguments and
the foreign policy arguments and the national security arguments,
and wanting to take the country through what is a difficult timewe
have suffered some great losses in Afghanistanand wanting
to make sure that we can take the country in the most united way
we can through this situation, for our own national good, of what
we're doing in Afghanistan, and to take people with us. I think
that is actually important.
Q129 Mr Arbuthnot: You
will see the twinfold risk that we might be encouraging the Taliban
to think that they can just wait us out, and that we might therefore
be encouraging the local residents of Afghanistan to support the
Taliban rather than us. That's the first risk.
Mr Cameron: Absolutely. Can
I answer that?
Chair: Let's take the two risks together.
Q130 Mr Arbuthnot: The second
risk is that we leave Afghanistan and leave the job of combat
troops to our allies, which is not, surely, in the British tradition.
Mr Cameron: Okay. Let me try
to answer those as best I can. First, I think that setting a 2015
deadline rather takes the pressure off what I think other Governments
have felt, which is, "I must insist on this many troops out
by that month" or "that many troops out by that month."
That is actually a more dangerous situation to get yourself into,
because this transition we want to see has got to be in respect
of conditions based on the ground, and we mustn't rush it; we've
got to get it right. So I think it's better to set a later, firmer
deadline than to try to set too many individual deadlines before.
Mr Arbuthnot: I like the notion of
Mr Cameron: This is five years
we are talking, effectivelywell, four years. But it's a
long period of time.
Secondly, on leaving Afghanistan, what I
would say is this. We have over 10,000 troops in Afghanistan.
We have been in the toughest part of the country for the longest
period of time. When you look at the price we've paid and the
casualties that we've taken, I think we can hold our heads up
high in NATO and say that we have played a huge part in trying
to get this country to a better place. I think other NATO members
respect and understand that and I am extraordinarily proud of
what our troops have done. It's been incredibly tough.
What I have tried to do is first of all
make sure that in the mission we are involved in, we have a proper
spread of troops to deliver that mission. That is why I was absolutely
clear we had to come out of Sangin. We were overstretched. As
well as 10,000 UK troops, there were 20,000 US troops. I wanted
to make sure we were covering an appropriate amount of ground
so we could deliver the job and do it properly. We have served
magnificently in Sangin. Incredibly brave people did extraordinary
things in that town. I have been there and seen it for myself.
But I think it was right to make the decision to say, "Let
us focus on Central Helmand, where we have enough troops to do
the job properly, to deliver the effect on the ground," and
that is now happening. I am confident that was absolutely the
right decision that I insisted was taken. That's the first point.
The second point is, it will be a serious
amount of time that we will have been there, and I think we can
hold our heads up high and say we have played our role absolutely
to the full and we can be proud right now of what we have done,
irrespective of what we will continue to do over the next few
Mr Arbuthnot: With that I agree.
162. When asked about the risks of making an announcement
of such a firm date for withdrawal, Peter Watkins told us:
There are both benefits and risks in doing that.
One of the benefits has been that it has been quite widely welcomed
by the Afghans themselves. They want to take over the lead role
for security in their own country and have reacted quite positively
to the 2015 date. As I said, that is simply the year after the
end of 2014, which is the date that they themselves were intimately
involved in agreeing. [...]
The risk is, of course, that that date might
be misinterpreted by the Taliban and they might imagine that it
means that the international community will leave, but of course
that is not the case. As the Prime Minister, President Obama and
the Secretary-General of NATO have said, we are not just going
to leave. ISAF will retainthe countries of the Coalition
will retainForces and other capabilities in Afghanistan
to support the Afghans.
163. Karen Pierce said:
[...] It would be for Ministers, not for me,
to answer what might happen in the event of a situation being
X or Y in 2015. What I was trying to do [...] is simply say that
it is conceivable that there is one scenario in which a part of
Afghanistan still requires ISAF combat assistance, and that that
assistance would be provided. It does not automatically mean it
has to be provided by Britain, but this is really a question that
Ministers could only properly consider at the point at which it
was a live question. I don't want to give the impression that
we would withdraw and leave our allies in the lurch. That's not
what I'm trying to do.
164. When asked if the transfer of responsibility
for security to the Afghan Forces was possible by the end of 2014,
General Parker told us that it was a reasonable order to give
the military but that the situation is dynamic:
I think that is an entirely reasonable order
to give to the military. The resources and the plan are there.
We will have to manage a whole series of risks, and we should
be planning to do so, but we should stay on the balls of our feet
to deal with the unexpected.
Because I feel that with the plan that McChrystal
brought in, that catalyst for progress injected something into
this campaign that is starting to develop momentum and cautious
optimism. It is entirely reasonable for our political masters
to turn round to the Coalition and say, "Do it by 2015."
I think that time frame is entirely reasonable, even with those
challenges that you talk about. I am talking about out-of-combat
operations, because that is what I read in the instruction.
165. We asked General Parker when will ISAF be able
to withdraw, he told us:
That I can't answer. I am saying as a military
man that it is entirely reasonable to be told to plan to get out
of combat operations by 2014 or 2015. That is an entirely reasonable
ask, and if we cannot do so we should pull our finger out. The
situation is very dynamic, however, and we need to stay prepared
to react. We need to continue to plan for contingencies that are
He also told us that there was still a debate to
be had about how much the UK would need to help to sustain the
institutional capacity of the Armed Forces.
166. In May 2011, the Prime Minister announced the
withdrawal of 400 troops from Afghanistan by 2012.
There are currently some 90,000 US troops in Afghanistan. President
Obama announced in June 2011 that 10,000 US troops would be withdrawn
from Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by the end of September
2012. In response,
the Prime Minister said that he welcomed the announcement to draw
down the US troop surge from Afghanistan:
The surge by the US and international partners,
supported by an increase in the number of Afghan Army and Police,
has reversed the momentum of the insurgency and created the right
conditions for security responsibility to begin to transfer to
the Afghans from July.
We will keep UK force levels in Afghanistan under
constant review. I have already said there will be no UK troops
in combat roles in Afghanistan by 2015 and, where conditions on
the ground allow, it is right to bring troops home sooner.
167. We were told that PJHQ is working on the transition
plan for UK Forces and we assume that the MoD will be working
with the FCO, DFID and others to prepare a Government wide plan.
The Chief of Defence Staff has continued to say that any drawdown
should be subject to conditions on the ground.
168. Professor Farrell told us that too steep a withdrawal
would reduce confidence in Afghanistan.
It appears to us that the steepness of the withdrawal of combat
troops will be more of a problem than the final date for the withdrawal.
On 6 July 2011, the Prime Minister announced the withdrawal of
426 UK military personnel by February 2012 and a further 500 reducing
the Force from 9,500 to 9,000 by the end of 2012.
In June 2011, the US President announced the withdrawal of 10,000
troops by the end of 2011 and a further 23,000 by the end of September
2012. We are
concerned that, as any refocusing of US Forces is planned, any
redeployments should be properly sequenced with UK planning for
the withdrawal of UK Forces in the South of Afghanistan, and that
UK Forces are not left exposed.
169. The Government's room for manoeuvre regarding
the number of troops that could be withdrawn from Afghanistan
as part of an immediate transition is necessarily limited. The
withdrawal of a few hundred troops in support roles is feasible
and would not significantly affect the combat capability of those
remaining. A more significant drawdown, however, would have to
involve a complete battle group. Weakening any battle group to
withdraw numbers would be a dangerous move. A troop withdrawal
that involved numbers in the low thousands, therefore, would depend
on a geographical reorganisation of the battle groups and the
withdrawal from combat duties of at least one of them.
170. We believe that the NATO ISAF "conditions-based
approach" to withdrawal is a suitable one. Withdrawal must
have due regard to the circumstances at the time. There are still
many challenges facing the ANSF and Afghan Government before proper
transition can take place.
171. While we recognise that the Government believes
that the UK public would like certainty as to when UK Forces will
be out of danger, we also recognise that some level of uncertainty
is inevitable. It is important that the Government's clear determination
to withdraw combat forces should not undermine the military strategy
by causing the Afghan population to fear that the international
coalition might abandon them or by allowing the Taliban and others
to think that all they have to do is bide their time until ISAF
172. We recognise that much progress has been
made towards the development of governance arrangements but have
yet to be convinced that the arrangements are sufficiently robust,
transparent or accountable in terms of their capacity to take
on the full range of responsibilities that will fall to them after
2014. Added to this is the uncertainty as to how these governance
arrangements will develop following the end of the second constitutional
term of President Karzai. It is essential that a comprehensive
approach is taken to the transitional arrangements that will need
to be put in place leading up to 2014 and beyond. UK Government
Departments other than the MoD will also have a part to play in
helping to build the capacity necessary to ensure that stability
is maintained under Afghan control. We have seen some evidence
of such a comprehensive approach but feel that more emphasis needs
to be placed on capacity building within the political system
if long-term success is to be achieved.
173. We expect the Government to set out in a
timely fashion, the milestones it expects to reach and the progress
it expects to make against them as 2014 approaches. We will continue
to scrutinise closely developments in Afghanistan.
174 NATO Lisbon Summit declaration 2010 Back
Afghanistan: The Timetable for Security Transition , SN/1A/5851,
House of Commons Library, June 2011 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Liaison Committee on 18 November
2010 , HC (2010-12) 608-i, Qq 126-130 Back
Q 215 Back
Q 223 Back
Q 272 Back
Q 273 Back
Q 274 Back
Q 273 Back
MoD press release 18 May 2011 Back
1 184 83
Statement by President Obama 23 June 2011, www.whitehouse.gov Back
MoD press release 23 June 2011 Back
Q 207 Back
Q 110 Back
HC Deb, 6 July 2011, cols 1511-1514 Back
Statement by President Obama 23 June 2011, www.whitehouse.gov Back