Presentation to the media of a script for transition in Afghanistan

by NATO's Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan, Ambassador Mark Sedwill

  • 13 Oct. 2010
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  • Last updated: 14 Oct. 2010 11:08

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL (NATO's Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan): Hi everyone. Apologies for being late, but council overran and... that's how it is here, as you know.

Have you all had... you've all got the background on transition with the nice flow charts and so on? I'm pleased to see it's not entirely PowerPoint that we've given you there. We've actually tried to turn it into English.


MODERATOR: So that you know, this is going to be our first technical briefing in the run up to the Summit, so Ambassador Sedwill attended a meeting in ISAF format and he will speak to you on transition, how the transition process and the concept will work and then he can also, I mean, in principle, this briefing will be on the record, but he can also speak on background if need be, so please, Mark, you have the floor.


Well, General Petraeus and I attended the Council in ISAF format this morning to give them essentially our last major briefing in advance of the Summit. We'll do some further reporting, of course, just before the Summit, but this was the last opportunity really to give them a major briefing.

We focused on a few issues. Most of the conversation was about transition, but General Petraeus also gave an operational update, and I also touched on the issue of the NATO-Afghanistan partnership, long-term partnership, because that's an important component of our overall policy and related to transition. So let me just set that out for you.

Seen from Afghanistan, and of course the Summit is covering many other issues, but seen from Afghanistan the Summit is really the third big international gathering dealing with Afghanistan this year, starting with the London Conference in January and the Kabul Conference in July.

And although these are in different formats, in practice politically they are really a sequence. And the Summit is therefore, to some degree, also a forcing mechanism, as conferences generally are, for us to clarify where we stand, and indeed, for the Afghans to look back at the commitments they made in London and in Kabul and obviously wish to be able to set out how they're getting on against those. Even though most of those don't relate to NATO business, we have 50 Heads of State and Government getting together, they're going to be thinking about the entire campaign, not just the specific NATO elements, NATO-ISAF elements of it.

And so we talked briefly, for example, this morning about progress on governance. In particular, delivery against the London and Kabul Conference commitments, progress against corruption, the Kabul bank crisis. We also talked about political progress, the elections, and the reconciliation effort, and then General Petraeus set our progress in security, the security campaign, and indeed in the effort to secure trainers for NTM-A.

And so all of those essentially set the context within which the Lisbon Summit itself is taking place.

The theme, again seen from the Afghan perspective, is the same as those for the London and Kabul Conferences. Afghan leadership, international partnership. So this idea that we are gradually, across the board, transitioning more and more responsibility to the Afghan government for security, for governance, for development. Afghan leadership, that needs to be underwritten by long-term international commitment, international partnership, because it is going to be a long, long time until they have the capability and resources to manage all the challenges they face—not just security—without support. It's one of the poorest countries in the world and will need development support for many, many years to come.

The two specific deliverables we're seeking from the Lisbon Summit, itself an agreement on the transition program. We set out of the framework at the Kabul Conference back in July, but agreement on the transition program. And as the Secretary General has said, what we hope to be able to achieve is agreement that will start in the spring of 2011, and that by the autumn or the end of 2014, we will have achieved the goal set out by President Karzai, one year exactly before the Lisbon Summit, the 19th of November 2009, in his inauguration speech, where he said he wanted the Afghans to have the security lead responsibility countrywide by the end of his second term. In other words, by late 2014.

So that's the first deliverable and it will be a proper program, not just... although the communiqué language will obviously be fairly brisk like that, underpinning that will be a genuine program.

I'll come back to the details of that in a second. The other piece is the... that's the Afghan leadership half, if you like, the other half of this is the international partnership and that is a long term NATO-Afghanistan partnership, which essentially sets out how NATO will, beyond transition, support the development and growth of Afghan governance, particularly in the security area.

So that will relate to issues such as the continuing mission for trainers, the sort of NTM-A and any successor to the current NTM-A mission. The role of special forces, for example, in the country continuing to equip the Afghans to deal with the terrorist threats they face and many of the other items that you will be familiar with from the sort of PfP-type toolbox. We're not talking about PfP, but you're familiar with that toolbox of items that might form part of that long-term partnership. And so we touched on some of that this morning as well.

Just in terms of transition itself, you've got the paper there so I won't go back over all of that with you. But essentially there are two baskets to transition. The first is geographic, the second is institutional. In order... and they are, of course, related.

In order to be able to transition, particularly security, but also governance and development responsibilities to the Afghans, we need to build their capabilities. That's why the international partnership long-term commitment is important, and why, of course, getting the NATO training mission fully staffed up and fully equipped is also important.

But in order to transition provinces, districts, or even clusters of areas to the Afghan leader, the institutions responsibility for those need to be in the right shape, at least to begin the process, and then the process itself improved through that process so they can be essentially independent by the end of it.

A lot of this effort in practice will be about institutional transition essentially equipping Afghan police brigades, army brigades, district governors, provincial governors, et cetera, et cetera, to be able to exercise more and more responsibility.

Geographic transition. There is a series of principles we've set out. in practice, except in areas which are, broadly speaking, really secure, when the whole province is probably ready to move through this process in one go. We'll start actually at or even below the district level. So one might imagine, for example, handing over a town or a city to the Afghan Police, and having no ISAF forces, or indeed, even perhaps Afghan Army Forces on the streets in that area. And us and the Afghan Army, taking responsibility for the outskirts. And then gradually rippling out so that you hand over the entire district and then the other districts and eventually the whole province.

In practice that's the way I would expect it to work in the areas that are contested. So it is a bottom-up process.

But of course, there are areas of the country that are recently secure already, an entire province, or indeed, a group of provinces, in some cases, are reasonably secure already. The Afghan Security Forces are capable of handling security in those areas, so those areas we just go straight to the provincial level and start transitioning provinces.

As we assess each province, but also below that level, there are essentially four big questions that we're asking.

First, what is the overall security situation; i.e. the level of threat, whether from the insurgency or from organized criminal networks or from tribal disputes breaking out into severe violence or et cetera? But primarily from the insurgency, level of security?

Second, the capability of the Afghan Security Forces, Army, Police, local police, intelligence agencies and so on.

Third, the posture of the ISAF forces in the area. Have we got ourselves into a position whereby through partnering, mentoring, et cetera, we are ready to begin the process of transition, ready to start handing over responsibilities we have exercised previously? And of course, that applies also on the civil side to PRTs. Are they postured to hand off responsibilities to their Afghan partners?

And then fourthly, just the overall level of governance and development. In other words, are there any other issues in governance or development that put a successful transition at risk? Because one of the key principles of transition is that it must be irreversible. That's obvious for political reasons, but it's also true within Afghanistan itself. We have to make sure that this is a sustainable process as we work our way through it.

So those are the big questions we'll ask ourselves, and of course, there's a great deal of data underpinning those questions, which we will work on with the Afghan government through this joint process that is set out for you in the technical note.

We will not name the first tranche of provinces at Lisbon. There are two reasons for that. One is that if you name provinces or a group of provinces even, several months ahead of actually beginning the transition process we are simply asking for trouble. We are simply asking the insurgents to do their level best to disrupt the process, and, indeed, we are making targets of the provincial governors and the other Afghan officials who will be taking responsibility. And we obviously don't want to put at risk, or greater risk, those people who would be taking on this responsibility.

So , in general, this doesn't just relate to Lisbon, announcements, political level announcements about transition will take place as it's starting. In some cases, perhaps even after it's started, in other cases just before it's about to start, and that's for very sound operational security reasons.

The second issue is a political issue. The Afghan government is sovereign and has been sovereign for several years, throughout the country. We are the security assistance force. And therefore, announcements about transition must be made by them first. They are taking responsibility, or lead responsibility, for security governance and development in the province. Because they are now capable of exercising it they must announce that, not us. We're not handing off something, they're taking it on.

Now, of course, our own governments will then stand up in their Parliaments or press conferences and make announcements as well, quite rightly, taking credit for the work that they have done in a province for which they have been responsibility, to get the Afghan institutions ready to take this one. But the announcement must come from the Afghans, an therefore it wouldn’t be appropriate even if we were ready to start the day after Lisbon for those announcements to be made there. They should be made by the Afghan government in Afghanistan at the time itself.

Probably a final point by way of introduction is just... it's inevitably natural to focus just on the security element of this, and that's because it's the most visible and, of course, it's the one particularly for NATO on which we are mandated to concentrate. And we will see changes in the deployment of forces and changes in the profile of international forces on the ground as a result of transition.

We are currently in partnered operations. That means that we have Afghan and international forces out there on the streets together patrolling and dealing with the threats they face. In the Kandahar operation that is currently going ahead, for example, for the first time we have more Afghan forces engaged in this particular phase of the operation than we have international forces. That hasn't been the case in operations of this kind in the past and that's a very closely partnered operation, as are the other operations that we are pursuing.

As transition goes ahead, and obviously in somewhere like Kandahar it won't do for some time, we will gradually see, as the Afghan forces grow in capability, as I said, our forces stepping further back moving into a mentoring role and then an overwatch role, just as happened in Iraq, incidentally, and indeed, in the Balkans. There are precedents for the way to do this. And we will become less visible. Our forces will thin out and indeed some will be redeployed to become trainers, of course, to continue that process of equipping the Afghan forces. Others will be redeployed into other operational roles on the ground elsewhere within a region. Because there are all too many security challenges out there that still need our attention.

So that's going to be pretty visible, and in that sense the security transition is externally focused. It is about ISAF handing to the Afghans and the Afghans taking on responsibilities, which we have previously exercised. But the developments in government transition is just as important because in exactly the same way we, in many areas of the country, are delivering services directly that in the end the Afghan government must also deliver, and we must also ensure that as security transition proceeds we don't suddenly take away the governance and development support which underpins it. As you all know, the whole doctrine that we're applying here is comprehensive; that in order for security to be sustainable we need governance and development, and, of course, in order to be able to pursue governance and development you need sustainable security and that's why it is an entirely comprehensive and integrated approach.

That's true for transition too. In the case of transition... sorry, in the case of governance and development, that support will continue for many, many years to come, long beyond the completion of the security transition. Just as other countries with Afghanistan's rates of poverty and conflict and literacy get a huge amount of development support.

But it won't necessarily be in the same form. PRTs will evolve. We will wish to engage more with the multilateral agencies, including at the provincial level and essentially move towards a mainstream civilian development model at provincial level, rather than the current model where we are engaged in many areas of the country direct delivery, and in effect, substituting for Afghan government delivery of public services.

So essentially we move from a vertical, direct delivery model, to a horizontal, enabling Afghan government delivery model. And so that's an important part of this transition as well, and it's how we ensure that, as ISAF Security Forces move back then the Afghan government as a whole is capable of exercising authority within a district or a province. And it's just important, less visible, not as photogenic as forces, but actually just as important.

And that's something on which we're also engaging the nations, but also the UN, EU, NGOs, et cetera, because they will need to be involved for the long term in exercising some of these responsibilities.

So it is a comprehensive approach. We have a comprehensive approach to the operational campaign. We're going to have a comprehensive approach to transition as well, and our aim, as I said, is by the end of 2014, to be in a position whereby the Afghans are exercising the lead security responsibility and, indeed, the lead governance and development responsibility, throughout their country and across all the functions of governance, but that exercise of responsibility by them being underwritten by long-term international partnerships, including from NATO on our responsibilities, but of course many others as well across the whole realm of governance. And that is how we bring this campaign to a successful conclusion.

MODERATOR: So now we can take questions, I think. Would you please identify yourself. Yes.

Q: Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defense. Three quick questions. I note here in your document that transition assessments include the capacity of an area to sustain socio-economic development. Fine, and then that links to your diagram, where provinces identified as falling short of the criteria are subject to action plans.

This raises the question, which action plans? How are they going to be resourced with people, money and equipment? And that leads to my final question, this all points to pledges from the international community to pay long-term Afghan National Security Forces salaries. Those pledges are not there and the pledges to fully equip these ANA resources over the long term are not there. Binding commitments. Your comments.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Thank you for the question and the tone in which it was delivered. We know that the ANSF are going to have to be underwritten by the international community, no matter what we do in Afghanistan. It's around a $6 to $8 billion a year cost. Given the size and scale of the ANSF for the long term.

That's going to be true whether we are exercising our current level of responsibilities, or frankly, whether we have nobody in Afghanistan at all. So a precondition for security in Afghanistan, assuming that we are successful in essentially degrading the threat from the insurgents to a level where the Afghans can handle it themselves, or indeed, ending it altogether, is this long-term commitment.

Now, I think what you'll see, NATO, or course, is not a funding organization in that way, but there are parallel negotiations going on between the United States and Afghanistan over their long-term strategic partnership, which will include commitments in terms of supporting security forces, and, indeed, other areas of governance, and, of course, we are going to have to bring in the big multilateral donors, the World Bank and others, to support the Afghan government as a whole.

The IMF estimated that the Afghan government would not be able to sustain its own security forces until about 2023 on current rates of projections of growth and of growth of revenues. But that was before they had identified the mineral deposits which they have... which the U.S. Geological Survey identified and which the Afghans are now exploiting. So it is possible that date will come forward. But yes, you're quite right, we are going to need a long-term commitment to fund the Afghan Security Forces, at least to that kind of period.

And you're right, it's not there yet, but that's because it's a long way off. At the moment people are focused and countries are focused on the immediate. The whole point of starting to work on these long-term strategic partnerships, a NATO one, but then also those being underpinned with bilateral ones, is in order to essentially create the conditions in which that sustainable support is provided. But everyone is aware of the problem.

In terms of the action plans, the process is essentially one whereby we identify with the Afghans what the gaps are, and thus what needs to be done to get a province essentially that's within the frame, if you like, over the threshold to initiate transition.

The transition process itself in most places will take probably 18 to 24 months. And there are four stages to it which I can't... I don't know whether that's set out there, but there are four stages to it. And that's essentially as I said, going from partnering to mentoring to overwatch, et cetera.

But there will be gaps to get provinces up to the threshold and indeed, there will be gaps to get them through the process. And that will require, in some cases, new resources, in other cases a rebalancing of existing resources that are there.

And of course, there is an incentive to nations involved in provinces to do this. Most nations want transition to go ahead. Most nations want to take some of the benefit, political and otherwise, of transition and therefore they have a strong incentive to ensure that this process succeeds.

Overall, however, a shortage of resources is not the issue. There is plenty of money flowing into the Afghan budget from big donors. The U.S. now has a bilateral program of $4.8 billion a year in USAID, NTM-A's program is about $11 to $12 billion a year for the security forces; aside from all the costs of paying our own forces. The Japanese have a program of about a billion dollars a year, et cetera, et cetera. The Germans have increased theirs to nearly 500 million Euros et cetera.

So given absorption issues within the Afghan government, the level of resources is not really the problem. It's spending them appropriately and wisely in order to support this process, and we're not expecting to need lots of new resources. What we may need is more civilians on the ground, more development and governance experts, while the military experts in certain areas, and that's going to be a transition within governments that they're going to have to make, in terms of their support within PRTs, but in terms of the level of resources I think we probably have enough.

Q: Rafael Canas, from the Spanish News Agency EFE. I have two questions, please.

First, is at what point are talks of Afghan government with insurgents could have any effect, any change, in your calendar for transition? And second, the transition, initially NATO talked some months ago about that it could start at the end of this year, then the language changed to beginning of next year. Now you spoke of spring. So is this an unannounced delay of the start of transition? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: (Laughs). No, is the short answer. No, we've worked through this as a proper assessment of conditions on the ground, and we've always made clear this must be a conditions-based process. And so it would be irresponsible to start this before we believed Afghanistan's security and, indeed, governance and development, were ready to do so. We never had a program that was going to be due to begin at the end of this year. It was never there.

There were announcements at the London Conference of an aspiration to be able, perhaps, to begin in some areas at the end of this year, but that wasn't actually the transition program.

And, indeed, we have already started transition. We just haven't started the full transition program, but Kabul, transition to the Afghans two years ago, to Afghan security lead two years ago. And while you might say, well, okay that's just... politically, that's just a fait accompli, but in practice the actual transition of responsibilities within Kabul province has continued, and has continued this year.

So we now have... they took responsibility for managing the security of all seven major events that took place in Kabul this year, from last year's presidential election through till this year's parliamentary election, without quite... sorry, with quite modest ISAF support, including quite modest support for the kind of intelligence work that needed to be done to frustrate attacks from the Haqqani network.

They took the lead in securing all of those events. They took the lead in securing the Kabul Conference within Kabul. And you won't see international forces on the streets of Kabul except obviously when they're guarding their own bases, but essentially out on the streets of Kabul in the way that they were 18 months ago.

There are other parts of Afghanistan where at some district level there's certainly towns and so on where, again, we've already started to transition security responsibility to the Afghans. There are places, including some of the most contested areas, such as Helmand and Kandahar, where the PRTs have already started to move to a model of enabling Afghan government delivery rather than doing direct delivery themselves. There's a very mixed picture around the country.

But in terms of the program itself we decided that at the Lisbon Summit we wanted to be able to announce that it would be an actual program that we can be confident in, would start, and it would start in the first part of next year.

In terms of reconciliation, and so I don't think it is likely to have an impact on this timeline, unless, of course it proceeds at such a pace and faster than we would currently expect, that it reduces the threat from the insurgency dramatically, if you like, so that we can make a qualitatively different judgement about those four questions I was mentioning earlier, of course which includes the level of security and the capability of the Afghan forces.

I think we have to see reconciliation, and, indeed, reintegration proceed significantly faster than we currently expect for it to change that qualitative judgement.

Q: Nawab Khan from the Kuwait News Agency, KUNA. Regarding this transition process, if it proceeds as planned, will you also start reducing the NATO forces. Till by the end of 2014 how many will be left? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Well I don't know exactly how many will be there by 2014, but as you know there is already a commitment by the United States, for example, to start a drawdown of their forces beginning in July 2011. Now that is not a condition of, or specifically related to transition, but of course there is a relationship between the two.

Essentially what we would expect to happen, if you look at a province, what we would expect to happen is that as Afghan Security Forces take on more responsibility we can thin out. It's not handing off, it's not sort of throwing the responsibility over. We would thin out and be able to reduce the number of NATO forces within a province.

But essentially those forces, that dividend, if you like, would go to three places. One tranche of those forces would be redeployed to conduct other counterinsurgency operations within the same region because there are... the fact is that we will be transitioning in areas that are secure enough to be transitioned, there will still be contested areas that need our efforts.

So one tranche of forces released by transition will be redeployed to counterinsurgency operations elsewhere.

A second tranche would probably be redeployed into the training mission in order to further strengthen the training mission, and of course, create a faster growth and development of the Afghan Security Forces.

And then a third tranche might well go home, so we would expect some reduction in overall troop numbers over that period. We have no plan or number in mind for 2014. We have no plan or number in mind even for 2011 at this stage because it has to depend on the conditions, not only of transition, but of the operational counterinsurgency campaign as a whole.

But, of course, we would expect, as the Afghan forces grow in number and capability, the international forces to be able to reduce in number and capability, but it's not a one-to-one match is the point that I want you to understand.

Q: (Inaudible...). You were talking about governance, challenges connected to governance. How confident are you really about it? Because in some areas like in the south it must seem that security-wise they might be stable in the foreseeable future, but in government terms they won't because simply the Afghans don't have the human resources to fill (inaudible...) posts (inaudible...).

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: It's a very good question, but I think this is really an issue of thresholds and expectation. In terms of security transition the real test of governance is: is there anything within the governance capability that puts the security transition, and, indeed, thus the governance transition, at significant risk?

And Afghanistan is going to be a poor and underdeveloped country for probably decades, but certainly many years to come. It's the third or fourth poorest country in the world, rates of illiteracy are two-thirds or above higher in rural areas, higher among women. Governance capacity was dismantled through the soviet period and the civil war and under the Taliban. You all know the threats and challenges. It's 179th out of 180 on the transparency index, et cetera.

But that doesn't mean that the Afghan state can't take responsibility for governance, security and development. There are many other poor countries, some of them roughly the same stage of development in Afghanistan, that don't have international forces there at all, let alone the likely numbers that we will continue to have to enable the Afghan Security Forces.

They do have very significant programs from USAID, from the World Bank, from DFID et cetera, to help them generate better governance and development.

So from our perspective, and indeed, from the Afghan perspective, the real test is is governance... Not is the governance good enough for the long-term development of Afghanistan, because that isn't really the test, but is governance good enough to achieve the counterinsurgency goals and thus remove the security threats which threaten the integrity of the state?

As I say, it will still be underdeveloped for many years to come, but if we can remove the security threats, if it's good enough to achieve that, then the challenge becomes the mainstream development challenge, like many other poor countries, rather than the insurgent and the security challenge, and in that sense the threshold for governance, and indeed for development, is one that is adequate to secure an area, not adequate to develop an area because that's something that will come thereafter.

Q: Ben Nimmo from DPA. On the security transition you made it clear, everybody in this building has tried to make it very clear how long this process will take. It's starting (inaudible...) and it's been made very clear it's (inaudible...) years before (inaudible...). How are you going to manage, or how does NATO manage the expectations in some of the allies who are saying look, we want to start bringing our troops home, (inaudible...)? How are you going to manage to put a brake on that (inaudible...) between the expectation (inaudible...) and the fact that they're still going to be (inaudible...)?

And following on from that, (inaudible...) is starting to say (inaudible...) the provinces I can foresee a situation in which the countries which have the most caveats, which (inaudible...) in places like (inaudible...) Helmand will have their (inaudible...) and given the years of conflict (inaudible...) the different burden sharing (inaudible...)?

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: I think you've pointed to some important risks. There is a general principle, which is: in together, out together. So in the end every country must make it's own sovereign decisions about its troop deployments. Therefore every country also needs to make a decision about whether it wishes to be part of an Alliance campaign that is designed to achieve success in Afghanistan or whether they wish to head for the exit.

So every country will make their own choice, but they need to make... when they're making that choice they need to keep in mind the context within which they're making it, both the context of participating in the international community's responsibilities in Afghanistan, or whether they're going to continue to exercise their part of those responsibilities, and indeed their responsibilities as good allies.

But the overall principle is: in together, out together. That's partly why, to go to the earlier point, we don't expect the transition dividend all to be essentially reinvested in the troops coming home. We hope it to be reinvested in operations elsewhere, counterinsurgency operations elsewhere and in the training mission.

The other point you raise is about naming dates and so on. Really in a sense the answer is the same. The real issue is not whether and when countries start to redeploy troops or, indeed, reduce the numbers of troops they have within Afghanistan. There's a scale and pace to that.

Now, they can take a series of unilateral decisions, which, again, they're entitled to do. It's a sovereign set of decisions. They can take a set of unilateral decisions or they can take a set of decisions that are part of a comprehensive and integrated campaign, including transition.

If countries wish to be part of a successful comprehensive and integrated campaign then the decisions they take about troop redeployments need to be part of that, and that's why the transition process is bottom up also in the sense that it needs to be driven from the theatre by us, myself, General Petraeus and the people who work for us, essentially recommending what we believe we need in order to keep the campaign on track. Both the counterinsurgency campaign and the operational campaign, if you like, and the transition to the Afghan security lead.

Political leaders then need to make their own decisions about that, but again, they need to make those decisions being aware that the consequences are either going to be positive or negative for the campaign to which they've signed up and which, in many cases, their soldiers have sacrificed their lives for.

And that is what we're seeking to achieve, by giving them a coherent, realistic transition program and by giving them a coherent and realistic counterinsurgency campaign, which we believe in the end will deliver the security and stability that we're all in Afghanistan for, we believe we're offering them the prospect of participating in success.

It's hard. It's hard all the time, but we believe that's the prospect we're offering them and they must make their own political judgements about whether they and their country wish to participate in that.

Q: (Inaudible) from Japanese media, Sankai(ph) and Japanese Economist. It's about to command and control beyond 2011. You mentioned special forces, for example, would be remaining as an international existence. Does this go back to OEF or would it still remains in the hand of ISAF Brunssum or do you think there is a new arrangement necessary between Afghan government and NATO, or UN Security Council new mandate?

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: I don't think one should try and draw any broader conclusions from what I said about that than just the point that we would expect, because there will be a continuing terrorist threat within Afghanistan, to continue to have a requirement for some deployment of special forces of whatever nationality or shape they're after.

Most of our special forces are involved in training and equipping the Afghans and that kind of special forces capability, in order to be able to conduct counterterrorist organizations. There will almost certainly be some kind of terrorist threat to Afghanistan for many years to come because there will still be some elements seeking to carry out that kind of operation.

The Afghans will need the capability to deal with it and they will probably continue to need the training and support that special forces bring, just as indeed we have British, American, French, German special forces training and equipping other special forces all around the world.

I don't think you should draw any wider conclusions about the nature of the mandate, the subordination of the special forces or the command and control than simply the overall sense that there will still be a role for them, probably just as there will be a role for conventional forces in working in partnered operations and in training and equipping their Afghan counterparts.

Q: Yes, David Brunnström from Reuters. I was wondering, you mentioned the Kandahar operation. Can you give us an idea of how that's going and is there any reason to assume that's going to be any more successful than say what was done in Helmand... in Marja, which some independent analysts, rather than considering a success, look as a complete failure of the counterinsurgency strategy and the idea of being able to produce government in a box.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Well, God, everybody's in a real Jeremy Paxman mood today, aren't they?

I would challenge that assessment about Marja. Now government in a box was a phrase that gave an impression of some sort of instancy, which I think was misleading and in retrospect one we should have been more circumspect about at the time because it's difficult to do government in a box in a highly developed country, let alone one which has the capacity constraints that Afghanistan faces.

So it did take a considerable amount of time after the initial security operations to get the government experts and officials onto the ground to be able to deliver the programs. But that has been happening now for some time in Marja, and certainly when I went down there even two to three months, I think it was, I think it was about the 75 day point after the initial operation started, you're already seeing a director of education who was bringing to draw down funds to open schools and so on. There are now schools opening, people registered to vote. People actually voted in Marja. None of those things could have happened a year ago because the place was completely under the control of the Taliban.

So it is slow and measured progress there, but I actually think we are beginning to see exactly the kind of counterinsurgency affects that one would expect from a campaign of this kind.

Now, the Taliban are still seeking to intimidate people, of course. They're still seeking to challenge us. This was their major command and control centre in south-western Afghanistan. Their management and oversight of their drug's trade was all managed out of there, was all run out of there. The IED networks that they use throughout Helmand, that was the headquarters of them and so they fought back, and they are continuing to try and undermine the security we've brought there.

But I think we are beginning to see, just beginning to see, in the behaviour of the population, that shifting confidence they see that not only we, but more importantly, Afghan forces and a properly professional Afghan police force, in particular, are planning to stay. But we're not claiming that there is a dramatic success there. We think what we're seeing is the kind of progress that we would expect to see in a place that was essentially so far gone before that point. And that was, of course, several years of Taliban control and before that several years where the people suffered under the essentially attacks of a predatory police force.

In terms of Kandahar we're at the very early stages. Our effort over the summer period focused on the city itself and that was essentially trying to bring to Kandahar city the kind of approach that's been taken in Kabul itself, with a city security plan, building checkpoints, reinforcing the police presence on the street and so, and again we think that is on track. But of course there is still violence within the city although we're seeing some signs that that violence is shifting and is less... the scale is less than it was before of the kinds of attacks, and we're now conducting essentially the clearance operations in some of the districts to the west of Kandahar city, Zari and Panjwai, Arghandab and others.

As I said, for the first time in an operation of this kind the Afghan forces are actually the majority on the ground. They're performing very well. We're really impressed with the way that they're performing. They, of course, have a cultural awareness as they go into an area that any international force simply can't duplicate. We bring a great deal of professionalism and enables and logistic support, but they bring insights onto the ground, and we feel that we're in the early stages, but we're making progress.

Now of course, you're making progress in the clear phase, just as in Marja and indeed everywhere else, is not the test. The test is whether you make progress in the ‘hold and build’ phase, and whether we can consolidate a security oil spot in an area, whether we can help the government to deliver services to people and whether government officials themselves feel confident enough to go live and work in an area. That's a pretty important test of their perceptions of security. Thus in the end whether the population start behaving in ways that demonstrate they have gained confidence.

For example, travelling along the roads in and out of the city to buy goods and sell their goods in the markets. Letting their children go to school. These kinds of things demonstrate through behaviour from the population that they're gaining in confidence. We're not at that stage yet in those areas of Kandahar. It'll be some months until we are, assuming we continue to make progress. But we're satisfied with the progress that we've made in the early phases of this operation.

Q: You mentioned that... Laurent Thomet, with Agence France-Presse. You mentioned that the transition process would take 18 to 25 months. Maybe I millions understood, but doesn't that mean that it would end a year before Karzai's goal of 2014?

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Alas, no. The transition will not begin everywhere in 2011. It will begin in some areas in the first half of 2011. That's our plan. But other areas, particularly those that are contested, will not be ready to begin the process for a year, or 18 months, two years or indeed potentially more.

So... and it's once the process has started we expect it to take around that amount of time. But that also is conditions-based. So in some areas we might be able to move through it faster because conditions permit us to do so, through the four stages. In other places it may take longer. It may be that we can't do each stage on an average of six months. It takes nine months or a year.

The whole... the most important principle underlying this is it is conditions-based. Now we want to set the conditions, of course, to address the gaps that somebody was asking about earlier. I think James was asking about earlier. But we have to accept those conditions. So that's essentially what we mean by that.

And that's why we think the aim for them to have the lead country-wide by 2014 is realistic, the end of 2014. That doesn't necessarily mean the process will have been completed in every single part of the country by 2014. But it will certainly be under way and we hope in large parts of the country, most of the country, it will have been completed by then.

MODERATOR: More questions?

Q: So just develop from that, so by 2014 there would be an Afghan... the Afghans would take the lead, but not everywhere.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: No, the goal for 2014 is that... the end of 2014, is that they take the lead throughout the country. But being in the lead does not mean that necessarily, and certainly as you take the lead, that doesn't mean there are no ISAF forces on the ground with them.

So at the moment we are in partnered operations where in many cases, in effect, we are exercising the lead.

Now, of course, in terms of sovereignty they already have the lead because it's their country. But in terms of the practical exercise of that, we, in many cases, because their capabilities have not yet achieved this scale, are planning, leading the actual operations.

What we want to achieve is that they are able... the day they take the lead they take that responsibility. They take the chair, if you like, in terms of planning and conceiving of operations, how troops are deployed and all the rest of it.

But those will still, at least at first, be partnered operations. And as they grow in capability they will... our role will be from partnering, to mentoring, and then gradually essentially further and further back as they become more independent to tactical and then operational and strategic overwatch. Just as we did in the Balkans and just as we did in Iraq.

But on day one, the lead doesn't meant that there are no ISAF forces on the ground. Indeed, on the contrary, on day one, there'll be the same number of ISAF forces on the ground as there were before, it's just the Afghans will have taken the lead responsibility.

Q: Now, I know someone's going to ask me a follow-up, which is, does that mean in theory that you could do nothing until the end of 2014 except to get to day one everywhere?

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: That is not the intention. The intention is to begin this process in 2011, to work through it, in a conditions-based way, throughout the country and to... for the Afghans to have the lead responsibility everywhere by 2014; the end of 2014.

That may well mean the transition process is complete everywhere by then and that they are conducting independent operations throughout the entire country by then and all we're doing by then is providing strategic overwatch and training support. But that's four years from now and it would just be foolish to predict or commit to achieving that goal by then because we don't know what the conditions will be. It's got to be conditions-based.

So therefore that is the goal, but it's a goal that whether we achieve that goal is dependent on the conditions, and whether we still have forces on the ground slightly beyond that, under Afghan leadership, also depends on the conditions.

Q: Just a quick clarification of a number you said, Mark. Did I understand you correctly? NTM-A, 11-12 billion being spent every year? That's committed or actually being spent? Of course, that covers training, but does it also cover equipment? And is that the book value of the equipment to inflate the estimate or not?

MODERATOR: Typical Jane’s question.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: Now, there's a Jane’s (inaudible) question which I bet you know that I don't know the answer to. About the book value. But I'm sure we can find somebody who, on some of these things, can. It is the total... that's fundamentally the total NTM-A budget so that does cover salaries, it does... but not all of which are paid by NTM-A. It covers their contribution to that, it covers their contributions to equipment and of course it covers their contributions to train.

What it doesn't cover is the costs of our own forces. It's essentially the money they spend, it's the program money, if you like, that they have to spend on developing and building the Afghan forces.

When it comes to the book value of the equipment they buy I genuinely have no idea, but I'm sure we can find...

MODERATOR: Yeah, we will find that.

AMBASSADOR MARK SEDWILL: ...somebody who knows the answer to that question. Or indeed, who even understands the question.


MODERATOR: So thank you very much.