Britain to cut Afghanistan troops from April next year
Britain is set to cut troop levels in Afghanistan to approximately 5,200 by the end of 2013 in a process that will start next April, Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday, DPA reported.
The drawdown, from the current strength of around 9,000, would pave the way for the agreed final departure of NATO-led combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Cameron said Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and armed forces chiefs had taken the decision to cut troop levels next year "because of the success of our forces and the Afghan National Security Forces."
Hammond said there would be a drawdown in numbers during the normal troop rotation from April, 2013. "Then there will be a period during the fighting season when numbers remain constant, and then a further step of drawdown in September/October towards the end of next year," Hammond told parliament.
"The message is clear ... everybody talks of an increasing confidence, of an increasing competence and an increasing willingness to engage by the Afghan forces - a step change in the level of what they are able to do," said Hammond.
However, he also warned of the continuing threat to the country's future stability from Taliban insurgents, and highlighted the danger of so-called green-on-blue attacks by rogue members of the Afghan security forces.
Despite that, the key to peace in Afghanistan rested with the ability of its leaders to reach a political settlement, said Hammond.
Any political process would in the end require the Afghan government, the Taliban and other Afghan groups to come together to talk and to compromise, he said.
"Our aim is to generate confidence and dialogue. Our message to the Taliban is that reconciliation is not surrender; it is an opportunity for all Afghans to sit down together and help shape their country's future."
The decision to cut troop levels next year was taken by Britain's National Security Council Tuesday, when Cameron also discussed Afghan troop levels with US President Barack Obama, Downing Street said.
On Wednesday, Cameron spoke on the phone to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
A total of 438 British military personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2001.