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MoD confident Afghan forces are prepared for troop withdrawal

Published time: August 07, 2014 16:58
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) talks to British soldiers during a visit at Camp Bastion, outside Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.(AFP Photo / Lefteris Pitarakis)

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) talks to British soldiers during a visit at Camp Bastion, outside Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.(AFP Photo / Lefteris Pitarakis)

An MoD spokesman said he is confident Afghan forces are ready to assume control from foreign troops to fight the Taliban, and provide security in the fragile country. His comments follow an alleged green-on-blue attack that left one US general dead.

Matt Jackson, senior press officer for Military Operations at the Ministry of Defence, told RT that a recent attack at a military academy in Kabul does not change the government’s long term plans for the withdrawal of its troops. “This is a tragic individual incident,” he said. “But fortunately these incidents are increasingly rare.”

According to the MoD, the Afghan security forces have proved they are capable of taking the fight to the insurgents and holding their ground. "As the prime minister has said, we are not going to abandon this country. We are going to go on funding the Afghan National Army and police, our commitment goes on into the future but our troops have done enough and it's time for them to come home.”

Jackson claims that the Afghan troops are fully prepared to take over after the withdrawal. “They are leading 99 percent of operations. They are fighting and have gone through one and a half fighting seasons and they still hold key population centers,” he said of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF).

On Tuesday, a man believed to be a member of the Afghan security forces fired at a group of Coalition forces at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University, killing US two-star general Harold Greene and wounding 15 others. The assailant was killed, according to the Pentagon.

So-called green-on-blue attacks have been a major problem for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is a NATO-led security mission with the main purpose of training the ANSF. The most recent one raised concerns over whether the upcoming withdrawal of foreign troops could leave a country vulnerable to extremists.

Once most NATO forces depart, it will be up to the Afghan security forces to take on the Taliban. However, insider attacks have hindered efforts to train the 350,000-strong Afghan National Security Force.

According to ISAF spokesperson Jennifer Cragg, the recent attack “will not derail ISAF from achieving its mission, nor will it weaken the collective resolve and bonds of our Coalition and Afghan Partners. The ISAF campaign remains firmly on track and the Taliban’s campaign is broadly failing.”

End of UK combat mission in Afghanistan

After the main troop withdrawal in December this year, less than 1,000 British service personnel will remain in Afghanistan to run the National Officer’s Academy in Kabul, which is part of Camp Qargha, Jackson said. As the counter-terrorism operation ends, British military will be left for training purposes.

British forces are now making final preparations for their departure after 13 years of intense fighting in Afghanistan, which has claimed 453 British lives. The number of British personnel has already been reduced from a peak of more than 10,000 to around half that number.

AFP Photo / Lefteris Pitarakis

British forces were deployed to Helmand, one of the most violent areas in Afghanistan, in 2006. Command over the British-led Task Force Helmand was handed over in April this year, marking the end of the UK combat mission in Afghanistan. Its functions were incorporated into the US-led Regional Command (South West).

UK troops will continue their mission in central Helmand province at Camp Bastion, working in the coalition force or supporting the redeployment of equipment back to the UK until the ISAF mission draws to a close.

A report by think-tank CNA found that the Taliban-led insurgency is likely to rise after the troop drawdown is complete, which will require up to a $6 billion annual commitment to Afghan security forces to make up the difference.

Insider Attacks raise security concerns

The number of insider attacks has declined from 48 attacks in 2012 to 15 attacks in 2013, according to a Pentagon report. So far there have been three in the first quarter of 2014, as more troops withdraw and coalition forces try new ways of mitigating the attacks.

"Despite this sharp decline, these attacks may still have strategic effects on the campaign and could jeopardize the relationship between coalition and ANSF personnel," the report reads.

Some of these attacks are carried out by Taliban fighters who have infiltrated the Afghan security forces, others by members of the Afghan army or police because of personal disputes or resentment against the continued international presence in their country.

Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a press conference on Tuesday that the military had “seen no indication that there is a degradation of trust between coalition members and their Afghan counterparts.”

He added: “The Afghan national security force has continued to perform at a very strong level of competence and confidence.”

Of the currently 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan, 9,800 will remain after the end of 2014, to be cut in half by the end of 2015 and these numbers will keep shrinking until the end of 2016.

Whether 9,800 US troops will remain in the country after the main withdrawal in December depends on the signing of a bilateral security deal with Afghanistan, which is subject to the country's ability to sort out the disputed presidential election. A massive audit process to check eight million votes in Afghanistan's June 14 election is currently underway. Outgoing president Hamid Karzai has been the country’s only president since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Stephanie Ott, RT