Top ranking British officials say leaving Afghanistan after this year would be a mistake. The comments come during British Defense Minister Liam Fox's visit to a military base in Kabul. Fox says NATO will continue supporting the Afghan government after troops wind down combat operations. Fox has not given a time-frame for the hand-over of security operations to Afghan forces. He says that depends on the situation on the ground and how quickly the insurgency is defeated.
"One of the great propaganda weapons that the Taliban has had, has been that the international community will be leaving in 2011. They're going to be very seriously disappointed, because we're not leaving. After the Lisbon summit it was very clear that there was a stronger than ever commitment to supporting the government of Afghanistan right through to the end of 2014, when they themselves would have the capabilities to maintain security. So that security will be maintained."
Fox added, "Anyone who believes they can simply wait out this period will be faced at the end with not only the Afghan security forces in greater numbers and with greater capabilities, but supported in the long term, politically, economically, and in terms of training, by the international community. This is a battle that the international community is not going to lose."
U.S. President Barack Obama plans to begin withdrawing U.S. forces by July of this year and hand over security operations to the Afghans by 2014.