British Prime Minister David Cameron and Hamid Karzai acknowledge that some allegations in leaked U.S. embassy cables are true but say relations between the U.K. and Afghanistan will remain strong.
But both Cameron and Karzai, speaking from the presidential palace in Kabul after an hour-long meeting, acknowledged that some of the allegations contained in the leaked cables were true -- in particular, the lack of personnel adequately to control the war torn region.
Cameron said: “I don’t want the WikiLeaks to come between our strong relationship. Some of the WikiLeaks references [were about] not [having] enough troops and that was true if you look back to 2006 ... It was that we didn’t have the forces on the ground.” But he insisted that the American troop surge this year had changed that and allowed a greater focus on the central Helmand region, giving rise to “cautious optimism” about progress to bring peace to Afghanistan.
Mr. Karzai said: “The WikiLeaks documents are having some truths and some not so truths in them. Britain has been a steadfast supporter of Afghanistan and the Afghan people. Britain has contributed in its sacrifice of its soldiers ... for which the Afghan people are grateful. My word to the British people from the Afghan people is gratitude.” Cameron and Karzai discussed the ongoing combat, transition towards the 2014 deadline to hand over complete control of security to the Afghan national army and what Britain’s role would be after the end of the combat phase in 2015.
One British official said: “The president is asking the UK to play a greater role in training the Afghan national army, as we begin to draw down combat troops and play less of a direct role. You could imagine Britain playing a role in officer training in Kabul, for instance.” Cameron sent a message to the Afghan people saying that even after the complete withdrawal of troops in 2015, Britain would remain a “close and reliable friend” providing non-military support in the form of aid and diplomatic support.
Cameron’s two-day visit to Afghanistan has been quietly shaped by the fallout from the WikiLeaks revelations. On Sunday before flying out he had lunch with the American ambassador to London. He has also met the key players while in Afghanistan including the governor of Helmand, Gulab Mangal, and General David Petraeus, the American head of the international security force in the country.
Mangal was behind one of the most damaging leaked cables, in which he was said to have claimed that British troops were failing properly to police the notoriously dangerous Sangin district and didn’t leave their base enough.
Cameron said of his meeting with Mangal: “It’s very good to see my friend Governor Mangal again and I’ve been very struck on this visit by the progress being made here in Helmand.
“Whether it is distribution of wheat seed and the decline in the poppy crop, whether it’s the increase in security, whether it’s the fact the government is more effective in collecting taxes, whether it’s the number of schools that are open, the number of children going to school, a number of things seem to be moving in the right direction in a very positive way and I think a lot of that is the governor of Helmand and the very good work he’s been doing.” Making light of what has clearly been a tricky diplomatic period after the WikiLeaks revelations, Mr. Karzai said: “You should wait for the British WikiLeaks.” Cameron responded: “We were always nice about you,” to which Mr. Karzai answered: “Most of the time.” Questioned earlier by an Afghan journalist about Britain’s record in Helmand, Mr. Cameron said: “Britain performed very well in Sangin. We were stationed there between 2006 and 2010 and did very good work in Sangin but since the arrival of US marines we’ve been able to make sure our forces are better balanced and so Britain is concentrated in central Helmand and the US are covering other parts of Helmand and we now have a better balance of forces and it means development and progress can take place in all parts of Helmand.”