Britain could start Afghan pull-out in 2011
LONDON – Britain could start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next year, Prime Minister David Cameron told BBC radio yesterday, following talks with US President Barack Obama.
Cameron said Britain could begin scaling back its 9 500-strong deployment if local forces could take over security control.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told MPs that the government wanted British troops out of a combat role by 2015, saying that was consistent with goals set by international powers at Tuesday’s Kabul conference.
Obama is planning to reduce US troop levels from July next year.
Asked if Britain could do likewise, Cameron said: “Yes we can, but it should be based on the conditions on the ground.
“The faster we can transition districts and provinces to Afghan control, clearly the faster that some forces can be brought home.
“I don’t want to raise expectations about that because that transition should be based on how well the security situation is progressing.
“We’re not going to be there in five years’ time, in 2015, with combat troops or large numbers because I think it’s important to give people an end date by which we won’t be continuing in that way.
“But I hope that with the strategy we have -- the build-up of the Afghan army, the transitioning of districts of provinces – as the president said, it will be possible to bring some troops home.”
At a conference in Kabul on Tuesday, the international community endorsed sweeping Afghan government plans to take responsibility for security by 2014, forge peace to end nine years of war and take greater control of aid projects.
The majority of Britain’s troops in Afghanistan - the second-largest deployment after the United States - are battling Taliban insurgents and training local forces in the violence-wracked southern Helmand Province.
Clegg told the lower House of Commons that their fighting role would stop within five years.
“Let me be absolutely clear that we will see our troops withdrawn from Afghanistan from a combat role by 2015. That is what we are determined to see happen,” he said.
Later in the Commons, former foreign secretary David Miliband, speaking for the opposition Labour party, suggested there was government “confusion” about the timings, following announcements by Cameron and different ministers.
But Foreign Secretary William Hague, fresh back from the Kabul conference, insisted the government’s position had been “clearly” articulated by Cameron.
“That is the position of the government, consistent with the expectation of the entire international community at the conference yesterday that the Afghan security forces would be able to be in the lead by 2014,” Hague said.
A total of 322 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the start of operations there in 2001. – Nampa-AFP