LONDON, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Afghanistan is "vital" to the national security interests of the British government, the British foreign secretary told members of Parliament.
British forces are centered in Helmand province acting in part in a training capacity for fledgling Afghan forces.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers that Afghanistan was the No. 1 national security concern for London.
"It remains vital to our national security that Afghanistan be able to maintain its own security and to prevent al-Qaida from returning," he said. "NATO's strategy is to protect the civilian population, support more effective government at every level and build up the Afghan national security forces as rapidly as is possible."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he would like his forces to take over responsibility for security operations in the country by 2014, just two years after U.S. military forces said they would like to start winding down their mission in Afghanistan.
Hague said Afghan forces were starting to take a larger role in security as British troops worked to give them room to grow.
"In the coming weeks operations will focus on holding the ground that has been gained and providing a secure environment for local Afghan governance to develop," he said in a statement.