Page last updated at 13:29 GMT, Tuesday, 18 September 2012 14:29 UK

Hammond: 'No change in Afghan strategy'

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has denied that a decision to reduce the number of joint operations between Nato and Afghan troops amounts to a change in strategy.

As Mr Hammond responded to an urgent question on Nato strategy in Afghanistan on 18 September 2012, he dismissed Labour claims that it was a "really significant" policy shift.

The question had been tabled by Conservative MP John Baron, who suggested that the decision risked "blowing a hole" in the UK's Afghanistan exit strategy.

Mr Hammond said the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) had taken "prudent but temporary measures" in the country following popular outrage at a YouTube video mocking the prophet Mohammed.

"This is not a strategic initiative that's been taken, it is a tactical one by commanders in theatre operating within their delegated responsibility. We would not seek to interfere with the military judgment of commanders on the ground," he told MPs.

But Mr Baron, the MP for Billericay and Basildon, said: "This announcement threatens to blow a hole in our stated exit strategy, which is heavily reliant on these joint operations continuing until Afghan forces are able to operate independently and provide their own security following Isaf's withdrawal."

The move "appeared to take the UK government by surprise" and would "add to the uncertainty as to whether Afghan forces will have the ability to keep an undefeated Taliban at bay once Nato forces have left", he added.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: "It does appear to be a really significant change in the relationship between UK, Isaf and Afghan forces."

He noted that Mr Hammond had not mentioned the change at his last despatch box appearance, on Monday.

"Many are now assuming the UK was not fully sighted yesterday on this announcement," Mr Murphy said.

There have been 50 "green-on-blue" deaths in 2012, where Afghan troops or police have attacked Nato-led soldiers.

There were 35 such deaths during 2011.

Under the changes only large scale operations will routinely be carried out, with smaller operations only being given the go-ahead with approval from senior commanders.

Approximately 130,000 Nato troops are fighting insurgents in Afghanistan, alongside 350,000 Afghans.


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