We will stay until Afghanistan is secure

International conferences are ten a penny; many deliver little more than long communiqués and longer speeches. Today, almost 70 world leaders will meet in London to take forward the international effort to bring peace to Afghanistan — and this conference must and will be different. It must deliver results.

The urgency is clear. A few weeks ago 36 countries in the Nato-led Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) mission agreed to send 37,000 more forces, on top of the 80,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Right now thousands of international forces are flowing in. This is an important demonstration of solidarity with the Afghan people, and a strong rebuttal to anyone who suggests that our nations are looking for the door. It is already allowing Isaf to conduct big operations that would have been impossible with the troop levels of last year. The Taleban will feel the effect.

But the effort and sacrifice of our soldiers alone will not be enough to turn the corner in Afghanistan. It will have to be matched by a clear political “road map”. The London conference will help to set that out.

In London, the Afghan Government will unveil plans to improve governance, fight corruption and bring Taleban fighters back into society if they are ready to lay down their arms. It is clear to everyone that improvements in all these areas are essential. Indeed, it is clear, first and foremost to the Afghan people, who rate governance and corruption as bigger problems than security.

The plans being presented by President Karzai are realistic and achievable, but implementing them will require determined leadership, as well as international support. I believe that at the London conference those plans will get the support they need, including the financial means. Then it will be up to the Afghan Government.

We will also discuss how to transfer the lead in security operations to Afghan forces. Two important decisions have just been taken. First, the Afghan Government and the international community have agreed to increase the Afghan security forces to 171,600 soldiers and 134,000 police officers by 2011.

Second, Nato has just launched the military planning to take forward the process by which responsibility will be handed over to Afghan forces, province by province, where conditions allow, based on the military advice of the commander of the Nato-led mission and the political advice of my senior civilian representative in the country.

Two days ago I selected the British Ambassador in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, to be my new senior civilian representative in Afghanistan. Mr Sedwill is eminently qualified — he knows the country, the people and the Afghan Government well. He also knows the region, having been the British Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan. He is fully dedicated to the international mission and to the Afghan people. He has my full confidence; he will have my full support.

Mr Sedwill takes up his post at a critical time. In 2010 there will be new momentum in the international effort to help Afghanistan to find its feet and provide its own security. As the Nato-led military mission to protect the Afghan people ramps up, the civilian effort is ramping up as well. Co-ordination of that civilian effort will be more important — and more challenging — this year than ever. That is the job I have given Mr Sedwill, which he will carry out in co-operation with the UN mission and the Afghan Government, to help to support the overall transition to the Afghans taking the lead.

Transition is not a code word for “exit”. This mission will continue until the Afghans are capable of securing the country themselves. But, of course, we want to bring this forward as much as possible. That is why I will be pressuring the allies and our partners to contribute much more to the Nato training mission in Afghanistan. Trainers are an investment with an almost immediate payback: capable Afghan forces that can take the lead from our soldiers. We all want that. We need to make it happen.

Some might look at the terrorist attacks in Kabul last week and ask if it is realistic to talk about transition to an Afghan lead. Don’t be fooled.

Militants may try to make a propaganda success out of this, but it was a military failure. They did not enter any of the government buildings targeted; the only building they penetrated was a shopping centre. Afghan forces, which have taken the lead for security in Kabul since 2008, countered the attacks and established order on their own, without any help from the Nato-led mission. Afghan forces can stand on their own feet. They will do that more and more in 2010.

The London conference should also take steps to improve the co-ordination of the civilian effort in Afghanistan. A huge amount of aid and other assistance goes into Afghanistan; not enough is co-ordinated, either with the Afghan Government’s priorities or between donors. We can, and must do better. The UN, the Afghan Government, Nato/Isaf and donors must enhance their execution and co-ordination of civilian assistance.

In 2009 there was a lot of reflection in many countries on how best to take this mission forward. That phase is complete — 2010 is about implementation: with clear Afghan plans to improve governance, a more focused civilian effort, and a substantially stronger military mission. There is new momentum in this mission and it is gathering pace. The London conference will give it another boost.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary-General of Nato.