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UK effort in Afghanistan

Why are we there?

Soldier in AfghanistanWe are in Afghanistan to protect our national security by preventing the country from again being used as a safe haven for international terrorists, such as al Qaeda.

On 11 September 2001, al Qaeda, carried out the worst terrorist attack in history. Nearly 3,000 people, including 66 UK citizens, were killed - the biggest loss of  UK life in a single terrorist incident.

The Taliban were asked to give up the leaders of al Qaeda but they refused, so the international community acted to remove the regime. Since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001, al Qaeda has been denied safe havens in Afghanistan and the terror threat coming from this region has been reduced.

We are not trying to create a perfect Afghanistan, but one which is stable and can maintain its own security, without the support of UK combat troops.

Our strategy

"Military action must be matched by a viable Afghan state and a political process, backed by development. The UK remains committed to a strong, long term partnership with Afghanistan based on diplomacy, trade and development" - Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defence Secretary Liam Fox on 22 March 2011

Classroom in AfghanistanWe have the right strategy to establish an Afghanistan that can maintain its own security and prevent the return of international terror groups such as AQ. And we have enough time to achieve it.
The international community and Afghan Government are:

  • supporting Afghan-led efforts to make progress towards a sustainable political settlement
  • building Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) sufficiently capable of containing the insurgency, preventing the return of al Qaeda and protecting the civilian population
  • supporting the development of a viable Afghan state

The Prime Minister has made it clear that UK Forces will no longer be in a combat role or in the numbers they are now in Afghanistan by 2015, although we will continue in a training and support role.

What do we do in the country?

providing nutritionOur most obvious commitment to Afghanistan is militarily. We are part of a 48-nation coalition, mandated by the UN Security Council and working at the invitation of a democratically elected government. Our forces are making progress with their counter-insurgency and training missions.

Sadly, we have lost brave and committed service men and women. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Our involvement in Afghanistan extends well beyond military operations. We are working with the Afghans to build better governance, essential services and infrastructure.

International support for Afghanistan will not end in 2014.  We and our allies will maintain a very strong relationship with Afghanistan, based on diplomacy, trade, aid and development, and on training Afghan troops.

Making progress in three key areas:


With the completion of the transition process, Afghan government partners’ role will be limited to training Afghan Forces, equipping the army of our country and economic cooperation. - President Hamad Karzai


countering the threat of IODsWe are now entering a new phase in which the Afghan forces will do more of the fighting and patrolling, and our forces more training and mentoring.  As President Obama said in June, the mission is changing from “combat to support.”

When international forces arrived in Afghanistan the Afghan military and police were in disarray. Great efforts to train Afghan National Security Forces are now bearing fruit, and in places across the country they are taking over security responsibility.

The Afghan forces are growing rapidly, and are ahead of schedule to meet the target of 171,000 Afghan Army and 134,000 Afghan Police by October 2011.  They are deploying in formed units and carrying out their own operations.  There have been well-known problems, especially with the Afghan police.  But there has been real progress.

In Helmand, where previously there were five ISAF troops for every one Afghan soldier, the ratio is now one to one. They are carrying a growing share of the security burden.  It is this growing strength and capability which will allow us over time to hand over control of security to the Afghan forces and draw down our own numbers.

In March 2011, President Karzai named the areas of his country judged ready for transition to Afghan-led security.  The predominantly British-controlled capital of Helmand Province, Lashkar Gah, was among them.  This was a sign of the transformation we have helped to bring about there.

On 20 July 2011, security responsibility for Lashkar Gah, was formally handed to Afghan forces.  Several other provinces and districts, covering nearly a quarter of the Afghan population, also transitioned in July.

There is a sense of progress out there. The security situation is difficult, but we do difficult and that's why we're there. - Brigadier James Chiswell, Commander British Forces in Helmand in March 2011

Concerted international efforts have reduced the reliance of thousands of Afghan farmers on opium, leading to new and legal livelihoods. UK aid has helped over 145,000 farmers so far, meaning they can support their families and send their children to school.


Insurgencies usually end with political settlements, not military victories, and that is why I have always said that we need a political surge to accompany the military one. - Prime Minister David Cameron


If lasting stability is to be established, Afghans need to know they can fare better living peacefully and legitimately.  There is an Afghan-led process to encourage high-level reconciliation with insurgent groups and the reintegration of fighters into Afghan society.  This depends on insurgents abandoning violence, accepting the Afghan constitution and renouncing ties to Al Qaeda.

The death of Bin Laden presents the Taliban with a moment of real choice.  Al Qaeda is weakened.  Its leader is dead.  Now is the time for the Taliban to break decisively from Al Qaeda and participate in a peaceful political process.  
In this task, we need Pakistan’s assistance.  This is now as much in Pakistan’s interests as Britain’s or Afghanistan’s since the Taliban pose a threat to the state of Pakistan as well.

Regional co-operation is improving, thanks in part to the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement signed in July 2010, and the Fourth Regional Economic Cooperation Conference in Istanbul and investor conference in UAE in Nov 2010.


Today, Afghanistan is no longer a haven for global terror; its economy is growing; and it has a Parliament, a developing legal system, provincial and district governors and the basic building blocks of what could be a successful democracy. - Prime Minister David Cameron, 6 July 2011

determining their own future2010 saw the first solely Afghan-run Parliamentary elections since the 1960s.  The election was not perfect, but over four million legitimate votes were cast.

The government is developing the structures that its people need, although there is still much to do.

Approximately 5.7 million children are now attending school, up from just one million in 2002. 37% of these are girls, up from almost none in 2001. Literacy has surged. In Helmand Province alone, 300 schools are operating; up from 104 in December 2007.

Eighty-five per cent of Afghans now have access to a healthcare facility in their local area compared to just 9% in 2002.

Ordinary Afghans have made it clear that they value justice highly, and they are concerned about corruption. Their government’s response, with international support, has been to build a much larger and better trained police, and to improve courts and prisons.

Among Afghans, there had been little respect for the police. But according to a 2010 survey, 70% of respondents believe that the Afghan National Police is efficient at arresting criminals. Newly trained prosecutors are at work. The new British-funded prison in Lashkar Gah is providing essential facilities to deal with criminals. A Major Crimes Task Force and an Anti-Corruption Unit are being developed.

Thirty years of conflict devastated Afghanistan and denied most people access to basic services. Now key infrastructure projects are underway, delivering water and sanitation, roads, airports, schools, colleges, hospitals and clinics.

Market stall in Afghanistan

The country’s economy has been developing apace. The average rate of growth between 2003 and 2010 was nine per cent. We are helping to sustain this growth by launching the Business Innovation Challenge Fund, which encourages entrepreneurism. And we have helped some 800,000 Afghans – many of them women – to start a business with small loans. For instance, a project offering training in business skills is already helping many women sell clothes and embroidery to bazaars - read more on this story.


By 2015, there will be no UK troops in Afghanistan in combat roles, but we will continue to work closely with the Afghan Government and people for many years to come... Now there is more to do in the areas of security and reconciliation, in building up economic success and fighting corruption. - Foreign Secretary William Hague, 22 June 2011

Afghan futureWe have a vital national security interest in preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorism. So although our forces will no longer be present in a combat role, we will have a continuing military relationship.

We will continue to train the Afghan Security Forces, including through the new officer training academy announced by the Prime Minister during his visit in July 2011.

Afghanistan still has many challenges ahead.  There are real security issues and a lack of government capacity. But 10 years ago, Afghanistan was in the grip of a regime that banned young girls from schools, hanged people in football stadiums for minor misdemeanors, and banished radios and any form of entertainment – all the while incubating the terrorists which struck on 9/11.

For all its imperfections, Afghanistan has come a long way.  Today, it is no longer a haven for global terror. Its economy is growing. It has a Parliament, provincial and district governors and the basic building blocks of what could be a successful democracy.