Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman James Appathurai and NATO's Senior Civilian Representative for Afghanistan, Amb. Mark Sedwill

  • 10 Mar. 2010
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  • Last updated: 11 Mar. 2010 13:01

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Friends, thank you for coming. We have a special guest appearance, like at the Oscars, today and that is Ambassador Mark Sedwill, who is the new, still new, Senior Civilian Representative for NATO in Afghanistan. Selected by the Secretary General from his previous posting as U.K. Ambassador in Afghanistan. He brings enormous experience and energy to the job. He briefed the North Atlantic Council this morning and has taken the time to come and brief you and take your questions.


AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL (Senior Civilian Representative for NATO in Afghanistan): Right, thank you. Great, thank you. Good to be here. And thanks very much, James.

I'll just be brief to start with. I guess you'd like me to talk most about Operation Moshtarak and how we see that moving forward, but I'll take questions on anything else that you're interested in. And I know although it isn't your main part of the business, again, just in order to be brief I won't get way into the details to start with. I'll just let you take us where you want to.

Just a few points to start with about Operation Moshtarak, because you know this is happening in Central Helmand. The number of forces we have there now is about three times what we had in Helmand about two years ago, when we had about 7,000 British forces and a small number of Danes and Estonians. With the influx of the U.S. Marines and an increase in the other forces we now have over 20,000 there. So that's one of the big things that was very different about this operation.

But the other things that were different about it, was the embedded partnership with the Afghans. They were genuinely involved in the planning and in the execution of this operation in a way that they haven't been before. Larry Nicholson, who's the Brigadier General in charge of the U.S. Marines noted that the last time he did an operation with the Afghans the ratio was about one to ten and this time it was about two to one. So still more U.S. Marines and others than Afghan forces on the ground, but a radically different kind of proportion and therefore they were much more heavily involved in the operation.

And the other point about that is that they were truly partners. They weren't operating separately. They were operating alongside each other.

The other two things that are different about this particular operation in terms of its execution was the... So you had the partnership between the Afghans and the international forces, you have the partnership between the civilian and the military, and the operation was planned from the end backwards. And the end we're not in yet, but the military phase is coming to a conclusion. It's gone pretty well. And we're now into the next phase which is the civilian phase, the delivery on the ground and I'll come back to that in a moment.

But the military phase of this operation was planned in order to deliver the conditions in which we can actually make the progress that the people of the area wanted in governance and development.

And then the third thing that was different is the integration between the central and the provincial governments of Afghanistan. Previous operations of this kind in Helmand, Kandahar, right the way around the country, the extent to which Afghans have been involved, it's been at the provincial level without very much support from the centre. This time ministers were down, civil servants, forces, et cetera, were all deployed for the centre as well. So there was this sense that the Afghan government as a whole as genuinely behind it.

So given where we are now, we've had a couple of shuras in the last week. One with Vice President Khalili, the Second Vice President, one with President Karzai that Stan McCrystal and I went down for and we were in the room with Karzai when he was there.

I thought you might just be interested in some of the things that came out of those. You might have seen a little bit in the news reporting of it. The things that struck me were these:

The first was, particularly this is the shura with Karzai, the intense commitment of a generation largely illiterate because of the wars and so on they've been through, to education for their children. And they really did want to see schools and they were saying well, if schools aren't good enough, because we need schools with teachers, with textbooks and all the rest of it. They really had a strong idea of what they wanted to see. And of course they said they wanted clinics, they wanted the road doing, but I was struck by the emotional impetus that there was behind education for their kids. And that was very strong. And of course, that's an area where whatever the other issues there may be, the legitimate government of Afghanistan can really does have a huge advantage over the insurgency because the Taliban, of course, don't provide education. Indeed, they have been against it particularly for girls.

But the other things that struck me were these: Firstly, they had really rejected the police force who were there two or three years ago. And that police force had been... you know, it had weaknesses. The Afghan police force is an immature institution and it isn't well-trained and it's gradually improving, and of course they take an awful lot of casualties, so there's no question the quality of the people there having the courage of those people is admirable.

But in Helmand, in this part of Helmand, where the Taliban flag was flying, so it's an extreme example, the police force had in effect been captured by local power brokers and was being used by them to enhance their own power at the expense of the people. So the issue we sometimes see as corruption was really the abuse of power at the expense of the people of that area, and they made clear were that to happen again then they would resist it and they'd actually... they'd fight and that's probably how the Taliban were able to infiltrate that area so easily and completely.

And the related point from that was a couple of these elders of the tribes of that area actually standing up and pointing out the people whom they regarded as the local warlords and whom they blamed for the circumstances in which they'd found themselves. And why they had preferred the repressive nature of Taliban governments over the corrupt nature of, in effect, this institutional capture that there had been under the warlords.

And it was a very striking moment, and this was in front of President Karzai, as he was conducting the shura, I have to say with a skill that a conductor brings to an orchestra. I mean, he really does understand how to do these things. But it was a very striking moment as one of these elders stood up and pointed into the corner of these power brokers and said, it's their fault and we don't want them back.

And President Karzai picked that up and has made clear that he wants them to elect their own leaders and it's to their needs that the government of Afghanistan will respond.

So we're all clear that although this is... I'm telling you this story of one district in one province of Afghanistan, that this is, if you like, an illustration of the entire issue that we face there.

That military operations are enabling. They can bring security to an area, but that security's only going to ensure if we can provide, particularly the governance, security and justice, real basic governance, but also development, particularly education, to follow it up and that needs to be provided by the Afghan government with our support.

And secondly, this issue of power brokers and warlordism, that has really afflicted that country and enables these people to capture the institutions of the state and it's easy for us to point to those institutions and say President Karzai must do this, we're complaining about that, this, that and the other, but actually, in a country where those institutions are so immature and were systematically dismantled under the Taliban and before that under the civil war, the real issue is the gap in capability that we have to try and close and help the Afghans close. Otherwise, the risks of institutional capture continue and therefore the risks continue and instability continue.

And that's why you'll be hearing us, as we talk about next phases of operations, Kandahar, other parts of the country, Kunduz, et cetera, you'll hear us talking as much about the politics that we have to manage to ensure that all the tribes, all the ethnic groups are included, as you will hear us talking about a military operation, or indeed a governance and development programme. And those will be the themes you will hear about over the next few months.

That's probably enough by way of introduction. Thank you.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Why don't we take questions for Mark directly before I get to any other issues. Any questions.

Q: Mark, on a related issue, in Operation Moshtarak we've heard a lot about the military operation. I haven't yet seen an assessment of what the resistance was like, because the operation was flagged weeks in advance and there were questions would the Taliban all pour into the area or all leave. Do you have any estimation how many fighters you were expecting to meet, how many you actually ran up against? What's the feeling? Did they all come in to fight or did they all leave and now they're just sitting somewhere else in Afghanistan waiting for you to look the other way? What's the thinking on that?

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: It's a great question, and it goes to the heart of the issue. The reason for talking about this operation—there were several—one is you can't plan an operation of this size, particularly one involving the local forces and keep it a secret. It just isn't possible. But the more important reason is the McCrystal strategy is about protecting the population, not about killing insurgents. And therefore in a sense the number of insurgents in an area or whether they run away or put down their weapons, is secondary to simply being able to come in and offer that security to the population, because by excluding insurgents, either physically, because they leave, or by suppressing them because they put their AK-47s in a hole in the ground and stay, you're bringing security and that's the thing that means that they can't really re-infiltrate. Although there will doubtless be attempts to do so.

A sense, it's mixed. It's very difficult to put numbers on it. But the entire area was heavily controlled by the Taliban, as you know, and have the flag about it, the Taliban flag about it. And we're still seeing the evidence of that in the number of IEDs there are within the grounds. I mean, it is... for the people who live there, it is like living in a low density mine field.

Our sense is that... and again, very difficult to put numbers on it, but probably quite a large number of the people at the shura, the men at the shura that... the two shuras that I attended and General McCrystal attended, would, if you'd asked them a month ago, have said they were Taliban. Because they were defending their area against these threats from the warlords, and the Taliban had come in and were exploiting that.

And so, you'd have no choice, you'd one side or the other and frankly, they would probably have picked the Taliban over that, because repressive though Taliban government is, it is generally... it follows its own rules. It isn't just completely random.

So in a sense that is the objective. It's to get people who had affiliated with the Taliban, but aren't really committed to the Taliban, to change their allegiance back to the legitimate authorities. And our sense, this is wider than larger, is that about three-quarters of the Taliban fighters, we know, fight within a few miles of where they were born. And therefore they mostly are local, and it is mostly a local insurgency. And the answer is, mostly therefore just to go back to their normal lives.

Certainly some hard-core elements, including some external elements, left the Marjah area and have gone into one or two other provinces. There have been reports of some elements even having made I up to the north, although it's not a maneuverable insurgency so I think that would be fairly few. Some might have gone to (inaudible), some might have gone to other parts of Helmand. But that's a relatively small proportion, we believe, of the fighters who were there.

They didn't flood into the area, to go to the question, to take on the international and Afghan forces going in, but they did leave an awful lot of IEDs and those who were there took, as you know, several weeks to dig out, because we had to try and dig them out without inflicting civilian casualties and had this been a conventional operation our forces would have been through the place in a matter of hours. And that's the measure of the nature of the operation.

JAMES APPATHURAI: The next one's back there. Can I ask you all to please identify yourselves.

Q: Yes, hi, it's Slobo Lekic from the Associated Press. You said you used 20,000 troops, more than 20,000 troops in this area called Marjah, which apparently is a very, very small part even of Helmand province, not... you know, not of RC south. Twenty thousand troops, by my arithmetic is about one-tenth of your affected for maybe three, four, five percent of Marjah province.

How are you going to cover the rest of the country if you have to use 10 percent of your force to maneuver against a little village like Marjah?

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: It's a good point. In fact, it's about 20,000 troops in Helmand as a whole, so they weren't all used on this operation. So the numbers aren't quite as stark, but the basic point you make is absolutely right. This was one part of one district of one province. And we wouldn't expect, nor an insurgent wouldn't hope that we would have to bring the same intensity of military engagement to every one of the, in effect, 120 districts that we're going to be trying to bring security to over the next two to three years.

But I think there are a couple of things that are different about this. The first thing is that this is at the extreme end of the spectrum of insecurity. There are very few parts of Afghanistan where you actually have the Taliban flag flying and where Afghan governance doesn't really extent at all. This was totally under the control of the Taliban. It wasn't contested territory. Most of the rest of Helmand, the areas that are insecure, virtually the whole of Kandahar and most of the east and south, where the Taliban are strong and where shadow governance exists, is contested space rather than completely outside the government's control. And so therefore this was an extreme example.

The second point is that we believe that as we share our determination and make progress in places like Marjah, which is essentially the last piece of the jigsaw of securing the Central Helmand Valley, because as you know there have been operations over several years now to try to do that. There's one or two other small areas to go, but fundamental we hope that we'll be able to bring security to a sort of critical mass, if you like, of the Helmand Valley this year. That as that happens, and then as we move to Kandahar and other key areas in the east, that the... it isn't necessary to use the same kind of military force simply because the insurgency will then have nowhere to go. And our objective, if you just take Kandahar and Helmand, is to provide what is in a sense a boomerang-shaped zone of security from Kandahar City across into... towards Lashkar Gah and then down the Helmand Valley and that creates a critical mass, which the insurgency can't then re-infiltrate.

And so once that's happened then there are places now that are on a degree of dominance by their insurgents where they will again, to go back to the first question, simply melt away. And that is essentially the plan.

The other point about this and this is why I made the point about politics at the beginning, is that if we can, again, using Marjah as an example, draw in the various disenfranchised tribal groups in other provinces, again, or resolve grievances that are there between tribal and ethnic groups, as is the case up in Kuduz and Baglan, for example, where the insurgency has burst out in the last year, then because the insurgency is largely local our objective is to get the people of the area to expel the hard-core insurgents and reintegrate into the mainstream their own sons.

And so this kind of military action shouldn't be necessary everywhere, but of course we retain the potential to deliver this intensity and size of military action in those places it's necessary.

Q: I hope I won't disappoint you by not asking on Moshtarak operation, but on really on your job as civilian... yes, the Middle East News Agency.

What added value are you going to bring as the new special representative of NATO? Civilian. What kind of, let us say, strategy that you are planning to do differently from your predecessors? Especially are you going to stay all the time in Afghanistan? Or you will be like your predecessor, most of the time in Brussels or somewhere else.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Fernando Gentilini didn't spend most of his time in Brussels, to be fair. He spent most of his time in Afghanistan. Although he is now in Brussels, not this end of town of course, and I'm sure many of you will get to know him.

I think there are a couple of things. It's nice to be asked about what added value I'm going to bring, apart from deflecting difficult questions away from Mr. Appathurai here.

JAMES APPATHURAI: I'm enjoying today, actually.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Yes, exactly. But it's a serious question. I think essentially if we look at what our strategy is for this year then that's probably the best way to answer the question.

Essentially there are three pillars to our structure. The first is to regain the initiative against the insurgency and that is largely a security issue for the reasons we've been discussing already, and that's very much General McCrystal's lead. I can play a supporting role in that, but it's fundamental a military lead on his.

The second area is to strengthen Afghan institutions, civil and military so that they can take more and more responsibility themselves for their country. And that's in effect about extending the practical extension of Afghan sovereignty, both throughout the geography of Afghanistan and across all the functions of government.

And the areas that we have done well on are the Afghan Army. But we've done much less well on the civilian side and that includes the police. And just to go back to using Moshtarak as an illustration, the key things that are going to swing people's allegiance in the rural areas where the insurgency is strongest, is security and justice, and those sectors need strengthening. And the big part of my job is to try and ensure that we are all putting the right resources into strengthening those areas, particularly in the justice sector meshing together traditional tribal shura-based justice systems into the state-based justice system. Because the state system is simply not big enough or mature enough to deliver right away across the country, and of course, one needs to go with the grain of Afghan culture.

The other area, of course, is the police again, which is primarily General McCrystal's lead.

And then the third pillar of our strategy for this year is to try and resolve those political tensions that fuel the insurgency and many of those are very local. They may be between tribal groups, they may be between ethnic groups, but trying to resolve those tensions, which will drain the fuel of the insurgency, and that's largely a job about managing the politics, and that's something we haven't really taken as sophisticated an approach to before as we're now trying, and that's going to be a big part of what I'll be doing. Again, working through and with the Afghan government.

So we're getting the initiative against the insurgency, strengthening Afghan institutions and dealing with the political tensions. Of those, I think I'm leading one, and sharing in another and very much supporting the third. And the test, of course, whether I add any value, is whether we make progress, and on that the Secretary General will be setting me some fairly tough exam questions towards the end of this year.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Folks, we're just a little tight of time in general, so we'll have to take them quickly.

Q: James, it's a question to you.


Q: Yes. But it is related topic.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Oh, okay. Well, why don't we do Mark now and then we'll come in the last ten minutes to any other.

Q: Iranian president who arrived today in Afghanistan said that NATO is bringing no peaceful solution to the country. Do you have a comment on that?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Sure. That's an easy one. No, NATO alone cannot bring peace to the country, but there'll be no peace in the country without the mission that NATO is carrying out.

Q: A question for Mark, Stefanie Bolzen, Die Welt. You were talking about the importance of bringing in civilian structures. Can you describe a little bit how tough it is to find, for example, governors? How do you find these people and how can they work at all?

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: It is tough, but there's a couple of things happening. Firstly, the Afghans themselves, of course, are the people who find the governors, not us. And there are plenty of people around within Afghanistan who are well qualified and who can manage after those issues are set out, such as the local politics of an area.

But we are also seeing, on the technocratic side, if you like, because these governors... district governors many of them are not well-educated, but they do know how to manage people and that's the key point. On the more technocratic side there are the first graduates are coming out of the Afghan civil service colleges this year. Several thousand of them. And many of those are going into jobs in places like Helmand. And these are impressive and committed young people who are genuinely wanting to try and serve their country. And there's a strong sense of patriotism there that we can exploit.

So you're right, of course, there is a big issue about capacity, but so far that hasn't proved to be the key bottleneck. The key bottlenecks are elsewhere.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defense. Two quick question, if I may. How will IED disposal be handled? By the military, NGO, private sector, and when? That's got to be a priority in that region. And secondly, as ISAF forces draw down, will the ANA be stationed there in large numbers? Not ANP, but ANA. And will ISAF have to keep a large force on standby status nearby, just in case?

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: On the first, I'm not really the expert on IEDs, but there has been a lot of effort put into tackling the threat. In a whole range of ways, overt and covert. And we have in several of the country projects, such as those run by the HALO Trust in Herat...

Q: I'm talking about the battle field area now.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Oh, the battle field area now. Well, the first thing is to try and stop other IEDs from going in, locate those that are there with the local population and then there'll be a de-mining programme. But you need to really ask the RC South commander to go into detail about it.

On the second point, again, if you're talking about a local area, we currently have in there ISAF forces, Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Civil Order Police because those are police for the outside, and of course that was necessary to essentially inoculate the place against the local recruited police who come (inaudible...) the local warlords. And the plan is gradually, as security is guaranteed in that area, to bring back in local police, though they're not from the same district, who would be fully trained and well-led and equipped like the ANCOP. And the ANCOP and the other forces won't be removed until those police are up to scratch on the ground.

ISAF and Afghan National Forces will then gradually draw down, but over the next few months they will be providing framework security for the next few months. And of course there will still be large numbers of ISAF forces in the area should they be required, but the idea is that on the streets the police provide the security and then the framework, the perimeter, if you like, is provided by the Afghan Army largely with our own forces as far as possible stepping back.


Q: Yes, David Brunnstrom from Reuters. British Foreign Secretary Miliband has spoken again on the need for a negotiated solution rather than a military solution. Just wondered did he tell us what progress, if any, has been made in engaging Taliban in talks?

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Well, if you're talking about the core Taliban the short answers is negligible or none. I mean, I haven't seen the final version of his speech, although he sent me a copy of an earlier one. He was really calling for a political strategy, not a negotiated solution. And I think that's an important distinction. And that political strategy, or political settlement that he talks about is the kind of thing I was mentioning. You need a balanced political settlement that brings in previously disenfranchised groups at every level, from village, right the way up to the top level. And on that basis it might be possible then for the Afghan government to engage the core Taliban. But on the terms that have already been set-up, and those are fundamentally that they accept the constitution, and they renounce violence and links with terrorist groups. And that remains the Afghan government's position.

Of course, President Karzai is calling the Peace Jirga later in the spring, and he's making clear that that is open to anybody who wishes to participate on the terms that I have set out. And that will be the basis on which any political process involving the core Taliban might go forward. But of course, he also has to maintain the support of the rest of his population, many of whom are deeply hostile to any prospect of the core Taliban re-entering political and economic life. So there's a difficult balance for him to manage. And essentially the test is for them, whether they're willing to accept those minimal conditions that are clearly the ones the rest of the Afghan people want.

Q: Khalid Farooqi from Geo Television, Pakistan. You are already familiar with Pakistan. Operation Moshtarak might be going well, but the politics in regional context is not going well in Afghanistan. Particularly India and Pakistan are quarrelling in Afghanistan and Kandahar and Kabul and Ahmadinejad visit was criticized by Robert Gates. How do you see this development? Are we going to reach any regional solution in this particular environment?

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Well, I think it's inevitable there will be regional tensions in that part of the world. There are many regional rivalries and I've said before, all of the countries around Afghanistan need to accept that the great game is over, and they must not play out their own rivalries on the territory of Afghanistan.

I think there are some hopeful signs, however. India and Pakistan, of course, had their first talks at foreign secretary level quite recently and that goes in fits and starts, but it's good that it's started again.

And I think what we are seeing between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a genuine warming of relationships. The two presidents get on well personally and both sides are now talking more warmly about their mutual security interests, and indeed, the mutual threats that they face, and that is quite a significant shift.

So it's very early days and there are many things that can go wrong and no doubt will, but everyone realizes that that kind of regional framework and the cooperative approach between Afghanistan and Pakistan particularly is critical to bring this to a successful and peaceful conclusion.

What we mustn't assume is every regional dispute needs to be resolved in order for Afghanistan to be at peace. It isn't the truth and we must make sure it doesn't become the truth by making too many links.

Afghanistan and Pakistan can work out a lot of these mutual security interests and mutual threats by cooperating with each other, and as I say, there are some promising signs they are increasing that effort.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Thanks folks. There was one thing I wanted to mention as our time gets a little bit shorter, Mark's time does, and then I'll be happy to open the floor up to questions again, including for Mark, of course.

Piracy. The North Atlantic Council has decided to extend NATO's anti-piracy mission through 2012. This is based on the assessment that this mission is making a demonstrable contribution to increase safety for shipping and reduces success rates for pirates. While the number of attacks in 2009 was up over the number of attacks in 2008, the success rate of those attacks was down by 40 percent. And in general the shipping lane... it's called the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor... a very... just rolls off your tongue, in which international shipping goes and to which NATO and other bodies and other contributors provide ships, is making a clear difference for shipping companies. They are also taking onboard now the recommendations that they should take for improving the security of their ships.

So all this to say, North Atlantic Council has received its assessment. It agrees that this is making a demonstrable contribution to the anti-piracy fight in the Gulf of Aden and therefore has extended the mission until 2012. The Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 will be relieved by Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 on Friday, day after tomorrow. There'll be five ships, one U.K., one U.S., one Italian, one Turkish and one Greek.

That's all I wanted to throw onto the table. Are there any questions that you would like to ask on any issue, including for Mark?

Q: Shada Islam from Dawn Newspaper. I'd like to follow up... Dawn Newspaper, Pakistan. I'd like to follow-up my colleague Khalid's question actually. Karzai is in Pakistan today. He's visiting. And one of the rather... and this is suggestions that have come out from the Pakistan army, is that the Pakistan army could actually help the training of the Afghan National Army. It seems to be a serious suggestion. I was just wondering if you or James had a comment on whether the regional partners can be involved in police training, army training, security forces training in general.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Sure. I think any offer of support from any of Afghanistan's regional partners, whether it's for the army for the police or indeed the civil side, to improve their capabilities is welcome. Obviously it needs to be handled with great delicacy if it's related to the security forces, because of the other tensions and rivalries within the region that I just referred to.

But if you look at, for example, the Indian role in Afghanistan, they aren't at all involved with the security forces, but there's a very substantial civil aid programme from India to Afghanistan, including some major infrastructure projects. And indeed they have a mechanism for training a lot of civilians within India. They go off to Indian universities and Indian establishments to be trained and come back.

So I think any effort that binds together the countries of that region and gives all of the countries of that region a direct interest in the stability of Afghanistan is welcome. But obviously, as I say, when it relates to the security forces it just needs to be handled very carefully and we just need to ensure that there is no political tension arising from it, so that it's a net positive as an offer.

But I think, as I said earlier, the commitment that Pakistan is showing to Afghanistan security is of course welcome.


Q: Sorry, James, just following up on the piracy. So when would the NAC have to consider extending or ending the mandate? You said it's through to 2012. So would that be early 2012 they would need to consider the next move? And does that mean that there will now be a standing NATO group permanently on station in the area, or will they be rotating in and out, but will there still be gaps between?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Yes, actually I used the word through 2012, so to be more clear, until the end of 2012. Which wasn't clear enough. And there will be a rotation of Standing NATO Maritime Groups. They will not be there forever, but we'll rotate these SNMGs through.

Q: Will there be a gap between between rotating in and one out or will there be (inaudible...)...

JAMES APPATHURAI: There is no intention to have a gap. We have not had a gap. I don't think there will be gaps.

Q: The Turkish, U.S., U.K. Greek...

JAMES APPATHURAI: Yes, U.K., U.S., Italian, Turkish, Greek.

Q: Yes, I have a question. Rafael Canas from the Spanish News Agency EFE. I have one question for each of you. For Mr. Sedwill, coming back to the level of troops in Marjah, is there yet any assessment about how many troops could be left so as to free troops for some other operations, but at the same time ensure the security if the Taliban decide to come back?

And to James, please, it's about the anti-piracy mission. Do you remember how long are the rotations?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Oh, good question. Yes.


JAMES APPATHURAI: Thanks. Please go ahead, while I think this one through.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: You know, I was going to say the same. I don't want to get into the exact troop numbers that we'll be there for the next few months and beyond for security reasons, but also because it depends on the circumstances on the ground. But the RC South, the regional command for the south will be leaving substantial troops, both international and the Afghan troops will be there through until the early summer. And how long that needs to last will depend on the threat that we face from re-infiltration.

There will be some challenge, no doubt, but what we hope is that gradually as we embed security and the allegiance of the population to the legitimate government of Afghanistan is... legitimate authority, sorry, to the government of Afghanistan, the legitimate authorities becomes guaranteed, then they provide for their own security. Because the Taliban have to calibrate as well. As I said, most of them are local and they can only really infiltrate an area if the local population as a whole consent. And that's not true of say one village, but it is true of an entire area like Marjah, where if the entire population decides it doesn't want the Taliban there it's extremely difficult for them to impose themselves. And that's what we're seeking to achieve through guaranteeing security for the next few months.

And then gradually it will be possible to step back.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Six months. Thank you.

Friends, thank you very much. See you next week.