West 'will not abandon Afghanistan': British commander

10th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The army general leading British troops in Afghanistan promised Tuesday that the West "was not going to abandon" the war-torn nation after the security handover to local forces in 2014.

General James Bucknall, who is also deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, told Britain's Guardian newspaper the December 2014 transition was "not an end date but a waypoint".

"This long-term commitment is absolutely key to our short-term progress," the soldier reasoned.

The May 1 killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden raised questions about the West's military role in Afghanistan and its commitment to providing funds and expertise in the rebuilding of the poverty-stricken nation.

Bucknall insisted that long-term commitment was the only credible solution to defeating the Taliban.

"Until we have made it clear that the international community is not going to abandon Afghanistan in the near term the insurgents will think that they can wait out the campaign," he said.

"December (2014) is not a campaign end date but a waypoint," he added. "A point at which the coalition security posture changes from one that is in the lead to one that is mentoring and advising, but is still here."

The general warned that heavy casualties were expected as ISAF shifted its focus away from night-time attacks on mid-level Taliban commanders.

"We expect violence to increase, but I would make the point strongly that this should not be taken as a signal of a faltering campaign but one that is contesting the insurgents more broadly than we have done before," he argued.

The British government last week vowed that bin Laden's death would not change its strategy in Afghanistan.

"The death of Osama bin Laden, although a positive development in terms of our counter-terrorism effort, does not change our strategy in Afghanistan," said Foreign Secretary William Hague in a statement last Wednesday.

"We remain committed to our military, diplomatic and development work to build a stable and secure Afghanistan," he added.

The United States led the invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US after the Taliban, in power in Kabul at the time, refused to hand over the Al-Qaeda leader.

© 2011 AFP

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