Afghanistan strategy unchanged, says Hague

Click to follow

Britain's role in Afghanistan will not change in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, William Hague has said.

The Foreign Secretary said the death of bin Laden in Pakistan marks a "decisive moment" for Afghanistan, when the Taliban should be persuaded to break off links with the al-Qa'ida network.

His comments came as the White House defended the killing of the world's most wanted man as an act of "national self-defence".

US Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee: "Let me make something very clear, the operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful.

"He was the head of al-Qa'ida - an organisation that had conducted the attacks of September 11. He admitted his involvement.

"It was justified as an act of national self-defence. If he had surrendered, attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that and therefore his killing was appropriate."

In a statement in response to a parliamentary report on Afghanistan and Pakistan Mr Hague said: "The death of Osama bin Laden, although a positive development in terms of our counter-terrorism effort, does not change our strategy in Afghanistan,"

"We remain committed to our military, diplomatic and development work to build a stable and secure Afghanistan. We will work, with our Afghan and international partners to ensure that Afghanistan can never again be a safe haven for international terrorist groups like al-Qa'ida.

"This is a decisive moment. The Taliban should recognise that now is the time to separate themselves from al Qaida and participate in a peaceful political process."

Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday said the death of the terrorist mastermind would not "necessarily" allow an accelerated withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan.

However, the French foreign minister Alain Juppe today said that France and America are considering speeding up the withdrawal of their troops.

Mr Juppe told France 24 TV that accelerating the planned withdrawal of the 4,000 French troops in Afghanistan by 2014 is "one of the options we're going to consider. The Americans are also thinking about it".

Mr Cameron yesterday warned of the danger of attacks by al-Qa'ida or its affiliates, seeking to show they can still mount effective operations in the absence of their leader, or from "lone wolf" individuals wanting to avenge his death.

Today Mr Hague said: "Our considered assessment is that there remains a risk to the UK from violent extremism emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Without the current presence of international forces in Afghanistan, al-Qa'ida would be able to re-establish itself and the threat of terrorism to the UK from the region would rise."

Meanwhile, Pakistan's prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said that intelligence agencies around the world should share the blame for Pakistan's failure to capture bin Laden.

Pakistani officials said earlier that they alerted the US to suspicions about bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad as far back as 2009.

The country's foreign secretary Salman Bashir said American concerns over whether it could trust Pakistan's security and intelligence services were "misplaced" and insisted it had extended "every co-operation" to the US and played a "pivotal role" in the fight against terror.

Islamabad is smarting over Washington's decision not to inform it in advance of the audacious special forces raid which led to the killing of the al-Qa'ida leader in a city which is home to Pakistan's elite officer training college.

CIA director Leon Panetta has said the Pakistani authorities were not told in advance because of fears that the information would be leaked, allowing bin Laden the opportunity to flee.

The row blew up as the White House backtracked on some key details about the operation which led to the death of America's most wanted man.

It emerged that bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot dead by US Navy Seal commandos and did not attempt to shelter behind his wife as initially believed.

White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted the US commandos were prepared to take bin Laden alive, but said he was "resisting" when he was shot dead.

Mr Carney also disclosed that a woman killed in the raid had not been acting as a human shield, as previously claimed, but was caught in crossfire.

One of bin Laden's wives was, however, shot and wounded when she tried to rush the American troops as they burst into the family's home, he said.

Mr Carney acknowledged there had been inaccuracies in the original accounts of the raid given by US officials, saying they had released "a great deal of information in great haste".

American officials are considering whether to release photographs of bin Laden's body in order to counter claims already rife in the region that he had not been killed at all.