Britain could start Afghan withdrawal next year, says Helmand governor
Gulab Mangal says improving security means Afghan army could take 'lead responsibility' for security within a year
British and US soldiers could start coming home next year and end their combat role by 2015, the governor of Helmand province said in London today.
Gulab Mangal said that the improving situation in parts of the province meant that, in some areas, the Afghan army would be able to take "lead responsibility" for security within a year.
Asked whether he was confident that the Afghans would meet the 2011 and 2015 deadlines set by the British government, Mangal replied: "I think we will".
He said it would depend on Nato-led forces in Afghanistan keeping to their commitment to devote resources to training the Afghan army and security forces.
They were not in a position to secure Helmand or neighbouring Kandahar province if Nato forces pulled out now, he said. Asked about talking to the Taliban, he replied: "We should have military pressure at the same time as reconciliation."
Suggesting that the security situation had improved significantly in some areas, he said he had issued an order last week to his officials in Helmand that in future they had to travel by car in central and southern districts, rather than be taken by helicopter.
Mangal, who is spending a week in the UK, said that when he came to power two and half years ago six out of 13 districts in the province were under government control. This figure had now risen to 10 districts, he said.
In these areas there was a greater freedom of movement, and law and order was also greatly improved.
He said that narcotics cultivation was down by around 50% in two years, which in turn had greatly boosted security. Two years ago there were 54 schools educating 56,000 pupils; now there were 135 schools teaching 140,000 children, up to 28% of whom were girls.
The governor said: "It's unfortunate that the achievements we have made are not seen or not reported."