Saturday, January 30, 2010
In echoes of Churchill's "beginning of the end", the conference on Afghanistan in London heard repeatedly about the beginning of a "transition" to Afghan control.
By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent - Telegraph.co.uk
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said America was not formulating an "exit strategy" but if the conditions were right Nato could "begin the transition."
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said there was a "clear and viable goal for bringing the conflict to and end."
But Bob Ainsworth, Secretary of State for Defence, told the Daily Telegraph he believed Britain would remain in Afghanistan for a "very, very long time to come."
He said the military presence would reduce and added: "I am pretty sure we can begin to show progress this year and towards the end of this year or early next year we can begin the transition to an Afghanistan lead.
But he added that transition was the "beginning part but it is not withdrawal" and that withdrawal depended on "getting the Afghan National Army where it needs to be and in a reasonable length of time."
"Just because they are in the forefront and accept responsibility for security does not mean they will be able to stand on their own two feet," he added.
Mr Ainsworth said the reconciliation process was diminishing the "confidence in the insurgency" that junior members of the Taliban retained and offering them opportunities, jobs and security so that they would lay down their arms.
Inviting them to join the Afghan National Army would "depend on the degree of confidence and what they would or wouldn't do."
One diplomatic source said the counter insurgency plan from Gen Stanley McChrystal represented the "campaign starting afresh" and that the 15-year timescale envisaged by President Hamid Karzai sounded reasonable.
Lord West, the security minister, said he would be "amazed and horrified of we are fighting the campaign we are now in 15 years" although Britain would "still be involved", possibly in training Afghan forces.
Amid talk of inviting the Taliban to join the government, Rangin Spanta, Afghanistan's foreign minister said "the reintegration strategy is not to share political power with the Taliban."
Instead he said it was about offering "simple countryside Afghan citizens who are not happy with the government or paid by the hard core Taliban" the "prospect of a real life, a job, education and a future."
A reintegration fund has so far received $140m for the next year - $50m from Japan and some of the rest released from US military funds.
The final total is expected to be around $500m.
Officials expressed some concern that the corruption oversight body would be appointed by the Afghan government and said: "We will have to watch closely to make sure the appointments have auditing and accounting experience."