New Forest East


Dr Julian Lewis: Does my right hon. Friend remember that when General Sir David Richards took over as Chief of the General Staff only last year he predicted that the current strategy would take 30 or 40 years to work? Given that prediction, with which I broadly concur, what will we do if we still find ourselves in what my right hon. Friend describes as an "extremely challenging" situation in three or four years' time? Will we still be committed to withdrawing militarily and operationally before the next general election?

[The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): To be fair to General Richards, I think he was talking about the efforts that will be required to sustain reconstruction, economic progress and regional stability in Afghanistan. I do not think he was talking about a large British military presence or involvement in combat operations for 30 or 40 years. Again, I know that there are legitimate alternative points of view, but we consider it to be right and best to make clear our position that we will draw down from combat operations by 2015. That means that the Afghan Government know that, and it goes alongside our determination to build up rapidly the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces. It also leaves our allies in no doubt about our position. It should be remembered that if we are still there by 2015, we will have been involved in Helmand for much longer than the second world war lasted. British troops will have made an immense contribution therefore, and, in line with the goals for the Afghan forces by 2014, we should be able to speak confidently about 2015.]