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Afghanistan 'will need years of help'

The international community will need to support Afghanistan for years after ending its combat mission in 2014, Nato's most senior civilian official in the country stressed yesterday.

Failure to provide the funding, expected to total billions of dollars, will put the gains made in the war at the cost of British and allied lives and resources at risk, Sir Simon Gass warned.

Refusing to put a timeline on how long the West would need to prop up the Afghan government, Sir Simon said: "Countries coming out of prolonged conflict typically take 30 years or so to push back corruption, establish democratic values, rule of law and so on. Afghanistan has gone through 30 years of disastrous conflict which has destroyed infrastructure and institutions and it will take decades to recover from the destruction that was wrought over that period of time."

Sir Simon drew an analogy with the situation when Russian forces withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of their war against the Mujahedin. The Najibullah government, left in power, fought off the insurgency for almost three years and only failed after Moscow cut off the financial lifeline.

He insisted that Afghan forces, due to take over security in three years' time, were making progress, increasingly taking the lead in operations. Their total planned strength of around 352,000 would be adequate to protect the country, he argued. However, there are reports that some European countries are apprehensive about large-scale financial commitment and want the security force scaled back to 250,000.