David Cameron and Hamid Karzai have played down the significance of the WikiLeaks revelations of criticisms of British military operations in Afghanistan, as the Afghan President voiced his “gratitude for the sacrifices and the resources that Britain has brought” to his country.
As the two men met in the Afghan capital, Kabul, the Prime Minster stressed that a leaked US diplomatic cable which quoted Mr Karzai as saying Britain was “not up to the task” in Helmand province dated back to before the surge in troops which has seen the UK deployment increased to 10,000 and joined by 20,000 Americans.
Mr Karzai voiced his “respect” for the British military’s bravery and skills during talks, said Mr Cameron.
The Prime Minister restated his intention to start the transition to Afghan control of parts of the country in 2011 and complete the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014. And he announced agreement on a long-term partnership plan which will see Britain offer economic, political and military support for Afghanistan after that date.
During his surprise two-day pre-Christmas visit to troops, Mr Cameron has voiced “cautious optimism” about the progress of military operations and said British troops could start to be withdrawn next year.
His view on the timetable was backed by the head of the UK Armed Forces, Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Richards, who accompanied him on a tour of bases. Gen Richards hailed the “astronomical” quickening of results on the ground and said success in the mission was “eminently do-able”.
Describing himself as a “good friend” of the Prime Minister, Mr Karzai said at a joint press conference in his Kabul presidential palace that there was “some truth and some not-so-truths” in last week’s WikiLeaks disclosures.
Asked if he would apologise for his quoted words, he replied: “Britain has been a steadfast supporter of Afghanistan and of the Afghan people. Britain has contributed in the sacrifice of its soldiers, of blood and of resources in Afghanistan, for which the Afghan people are extremely grateful.
“You have been operating as the British Army and trainers and civilians in a very difficult part of the country. We fully understand and appreciate the hard work you have been doing.
“So my word today to the British people on behalf of the Afghan people is gratitude for the sacrifice and the resources that Britain has brought to Afghanistan and the dedication to a stable, strong Afghanistan, a peaceful Afghanistan and an Afghanistan that will be standing on its own feet, rather than being dependent on others.”