Britain needs to see Afghan progress: minister

AP News
Posted: Dec 10, 2009 8:36 AM

British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth said Thursday that NATO's fight in Afghanistan will be difficult and slow, but that the mission can be finished "in a reasonable time" if Afghans really do start taking the lead in security.

Ainsworth met with Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak in the Afghan capital during a three-day trip to the country amid waning support back home for Britain's military campaign in Afghanistan.

"This is a difficult operation and it's not going to finish in the very near term," Ainsworth told reporters at a joint news conference with Wardak. "What I think the British people do need to see is growing Afghan capability."

"The British people need to see some progress," Ainsworth added.

The British government has struggled to convince its public of the importance of their military presence in Afghanistan _ principally in the volatile southern province of Helmand _ as casualties have mounted in the fight against Taliban militants.

On Monday, this year's British death toll hit 100 when a soldier was shot dead in Helmand. A total of 237 British troops have died in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.

Ainsworth said the British strategy will prioritize mentoring and training, so that Afghan forces can take the lead as quickly as possible.

The Afghan defense minister said he has the same goals.

"We both believe that strengthening the Afghan army is the only way to support the commitment that we have from the international community," Wardak said.

He said they discussed how to strengthen coordination between British and Afghan forces and he asked Ainsworth to help the Afghan army procure better equipment.

Ainsworth said if Afghans are shown taking the lead, then, "I think people will be more prepared to believe that we can finish this job, that we can finish it in a reasonable time."

Ainsworth arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday and visited British forces and local officials in Helmand before meeting with Wardak in Kabul.