Necessary Pieces In Play To Succeed In Afghan War

Britain has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. Foreign Secretary William Hague tells Steve Inskeep they have a plan to get every soldier out of Afghanistan before the British election in 2015. Hague says finally there are enough coalition troops and aide in place to help Afghanistan run its own affairs.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The world leaders gathered in New York this week include the president of Iran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his speech to lay out conspiracy theories. He claimed the United States staged the 9/11 attacks to help Israel, and that most Americans believe this. It's not clear which public opinion poll Iran's president has seen.

World leaders are also talking about Afghanistan. British Foreign Secretary William Hague came by our New York studios. Britain has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, and the British have said they plan to get every soldier out before the British election in 2015.

What do you expect to get for five more years of effort?

Mr. WILLIAM HAGUE (Foreign Secretary, Great Britain): Well, I hope we will get success. I hope we will get a country in Afghanistan which is able to look after its own affairs without presenting a danger to the rest of the world.

We're not there to conquer Afghanistan. That is impossible, as we in Britain frequently discovered in the 19th century. We are there to help Afghans run their own affairs, and that it's still a huge challenge, but we should apply ourselves to it with determination. And I think it's only in the last - in recent months that all the necessary forces have come into play: the necessary amount of military forces, the necessary development aid. It's only in recent months that these things have all come together.

INSKEEP: You know, it's interesting you mention Britain's history in Afghanistan, Britain being one of the countries that have sent armies into Afghanistan in the past. We heard this week on this program from William Polk, a distinguished American author and former government official, who argues that as long as there is a years-long time of foreign troops in Afghanistan and into the future, that Afghans will look upon anything that the U.S. and its allies do negatively. Even foreign aid in this circumstance is counterproductive and is seen as kind of an intrusion into Afghan affairs. Do you believe that's true?

Mr. HAGUE: No. I think it's difficult to generalize about opinion in Afghanistan, which will differ greatly from one area or - and even one village to another. You know, it depends where you go. I was out in July in Herat in the west of Afghanistan near the Iranian border, which is a more peaceful area than, say, Helmand in the south, which is where our British troops are deployed.

And there I was able to sit in the university and chat with students. And I didn't find from those students that I talked to, young Afghans, that there was that resentment. I think they wanted it to be there to help their country. They wanted to be able to work things out in their own way, not just told this is the way that democracy must take shape. They were quite resistant to those sorts of things. But they didn't want us to abandon them. I think that would have been one of the last things that they wanted, because they didn't want to go back to the Taliban.

INSKEEP: Foreign minister, you mentioned Helmand province, where a lot of British, as well as American troops have been deployed. People who follow this will know that it's been among the most violent, maybe the most violent provinces in Afghanistan in recent years. And there's a particular district in that province called Sangin, where British troops have been deployed for quite some time, have suffered terrible casualties, have fought quite a lot, and are now withdrawing and turning over that district to the United States. Why?

Mr. HAGUE: Because now they're with the surge in U.S. forces, there are approximately twice as many U.S. troops operating in Helmand as there are U.K. troops. And that means, of course, that the geographic distribution of the forces has to change, otherwise the British forces are much more thinly stretched than the U.S. forces. And so there is a natural redeployment. It means that our forces are concentrated in the right numbers in other parts of Helmand, and when you think about it, it is a normal thing to do. If when we had invaded Normandy in 1944 after D-Day, we said, you know, the British and American forces always have to hold exactly the same ground and never have any variation between them, well, we wouldn't have got very far.

INSKEEP: Some people will wonder, though, if British forces are giving up some of the more dangerous assignments because that causes casualties and you have a deeply unpopular war in Britain.

Mr. HAGUE: Well, if they thought that, they wouldn't have ever met any British forces, because that's not in their character.

INSKEEP: Are you taking on safer assignments than in the past?

Mr. HAGUE: No.

INSKEEP: You expect continued heavy casualties, then, among the 10,000 or so British troops who are there?

Mr. HAGUE: Well, look at what's happened. You know, the British forces have taken some of the heaviest casualties, done some of the heaviest lifting of the war. And I think there's a lot of unfortunately, there's a lot of heavy lifting to come.

INSKEEP: The American journalist Bob Woodward has published a book on American deliberations over the war in Afghanistan, and among many other things, reports that American intelligence officials believe that President Karzai is manic depressive. That's the phrase that is used. Is he stable?

Mr. HAGUE: Well, I can only go on the meetings I've had with him myself, which are always vigorous and intelligent discussions, I must say, and I feel a strong consciousness of the need to take forward political reconciliation. So I don't know I haven't yet read the Woodward book. Of course, I've heard about it, but I don't think I can give any further reaction to that. He certainly seems steady in his purpose in all the meetings I've had with him.

INSKEEP: In the meetings you've had with him. Do you have other information that give you doubts about President Karzai?

Mr. HAGUE: No. As I say, we work with him. He's the elected president of Afghanistan. If I did have other information, I don't think I would be putting it out on the radio, but I'm happy that he is steady in his purpose, particularly on political reconciliation, as we've discussed.

INSKEEP: British foreign Secretary William Hague. Thanks very much.

Mr. HAGUE: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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