- Afghanistan - David Miliband - military - NATO - UK
AFP - British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned Afghan leaders Monday that their next government must do more to defeat the Taliban and drive a wedge between the insurgents.
As Britain announced a scale-down of a major combat operation -- where casualties have been mounting -- Miliband sought to reassure people about why British troops fighting, and urged NATO allies to carry more of the burden.
"The biggest shift must now be towards the Afghan state taking more responsibility," he said in a speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels, aimed mainly at the British public.
"Enduring capacity comes through the civilian side, with military support, and our aim in Afghanistan is transition," he said, in an hour-long session that shifted the focus from military to civilian efforts.
Afghans go to the polls for provincial and presidential elections on August 20 in a vote seen as a key test of the NATO-led efforts to foster democracy and reconstruction in the strife-torn country.
"I believe we are at an important point in Afghanistan's history and NATO's work there, a testing point," Miliband said. "The elections on August 20th need to be both credible and inclusive."
Ahead of the polls, US and NATO troops have launched major operations in the Taliban heartland near the Pakistan border, but casualties have spiked, undermining support for the alliance's most ambitious operation ever.
Miliband called on the incoming government to weed out hard-line insurgents from those Afghans involved in fighting for money, because they they have no job or are even being coerced into the battle.
"We will not force the Taliban to surrender just through force of arms and overwhelming might," he said.
The government with the help of the international community could do so, he said, by "dividing the different groups, by convincing the Afghans that we will not desert them to Taliban retribution, and by building legitimate governance."
"We need to help the Afghan government exploit the opportunity, with a more coherent effort to fragment the various elements of the insurgency, and turn those who can be reconciled to live within the Afghan constitution."
In a coordinated message from London, the defence ministry announced that the offensive phase of Operation Panther's Claw, in which around 20 British troops have been killed this month, had been wrapped up.
"The first phase of Operation Panther's Claw has now ended," a spokeswoman said.
"There are thee phases. The first was the most heavily military phase," she said "The second is a holding phase about holding the ground and the third is a building phase."
The operation, in the southern province of Helmund, was launched ahead of the elections in coordination with other offensives, as international forces seek to take ground from the Taliban and their supporters and hold onto it.
While the focus of Miliband's message was the role the Afghans should play, he did insist that NATO allies must do more combat work, send more troops and equipment, and lift conditions placed on the way forces can operate.
"We will play our part, but we want others to play their part too," he said.
"Burden-sharing is a founding principle of the alliance. It needs to be honoured in practice as well as in theory."
He also sent a message to Afghanistan neighbour Pakistan, noting that any deal with former Taliban on both sides of the border should contain "red lines".
He said any peace deals should only involve former militants who are "prepared to shut out Al-Qaeda, and not use violence against troops or citizens in Afghanistan."