MoD denies Afghan strategy change
18 September 2012
The Ministry of Defence has denied that limiting partnering between small groups of Afghan forces and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan amounts to a change in strategy in the country.
Earlier today it was announced that partnering between ISAF personnel and Afghan security forces below battalion level would be approved on a 'case-by-case' basis in future. The move prompted reports that the rise in killings of western troops by rogue Afghan personnel was putting the security handover in the country – a central part of the ISAF withdrawal strategy – at risk.
In Parliament today, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond suggested he had been told about the change in policy before he spoke about Afghan policy yesterday but had not considered it to be "a major strategic decision".
The Defence Secretary said the news was given to him "along with quite a lot of other information" and that when he heard it reported nationally it was not "immediately clear" that he had already discussed it.
"It is simply one of a number of measures, it is not a strategic change," he said. "It is an operational matter being reported from theatre alongside many others."
Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy said Hammond had "had no idea about the international community's policy on Afghanistan" and that he had made "an astonishing admission".
"Today he has been forced to admit that he doesn't even remember that he had been told," Murphy said. "Afghanistan is our country's biggest defence priority and there is no excuse for the Defence Secretary not knowing his own policy."
After the partnering measures were announced, ISAF attempted to play down the significance – despite acknowledging that the move was a response to a "high tension" period of multiple 'green-on-blue' attacks and international anger over an 'anti-Islamic' US film distributed online.
In a statement, ISAF said: "Partnering occurs at all levels, from platoon to corps. This has not changed". The statement added that ISAF had taken "prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability to civil disturbances or insider attacks".
"…We've done this before in other high tension periods, and it has worked well. Under this guidance, and as conditions change, we will continue to adapt the force posture and force protection."