PM Cameron has announced that 3,800 British troops are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan next year.
Troop numbers are being cut from 9,500 to 9,000 before Christmas, but Cameron told MPs at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday that that number will be down to 5,200 by the end of 2013 and the remainder would be out the following year.
Nato says its operations in Afghanistan are to finish by the end of 2014. 422 British troops have died so far in Afghanistan since the NATO invasion in 2001, with several thousand injured.
Cameron told MPs yesterday ‘we’ll be able to see troops come home in two relatively even steps’, in 2013 and 2014.
This was due to ‘the success of our forces and the Afghan national security forces,’ he claimed, which are ‘moving from mentoring at a battalion level to mentoring at a brigade level in 2013’.
In a later House of Commons statement, Defence Secretary Hammond said cryptically: ‘Over the last 11 years we have been helping to ensure that Afghanistan’s past is not inevitably its future.’
He warned that if funding is to continue, ‘the Afghan government will need to address the corruption which remains rampant, and could become a very real threat to the long-term stability of Afghanistan’.
Labour leader Miliband said that ‘greater diplomatic efforts’ would be needed to ‘give us our best chance of leaving behind an inclusive and durable settlement in Afghanistan’.
Responding to Hammond’s statement, shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: ‘This is the fourth conflict in Afghanistan and we have no intention of there ever being a fifth.’
Conservative MP and chairman of the defence select committee James Arbuthnot noted that NATO troop withdrawals would leave those remaining in the country ‘increasingly isolated’.
Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell drew attention to the military equipment left behind that ‘might be of use to insurgents or others of malign intention to the government of Afghanistan’.
Labour backbencher David Winnick admitted that ‘military victory of any kind against the Taleban is totally out of the question: it hasn’t come about so far; it’s not going to come about in the next two years’.
Earlier, a spokesperson for NATO’s Afghan puppet President Hamid Karzai confirmed he had spoken to Cameron by phone.
‘They talked to each other about the peace process, the successful security transition and about the agenda of trilateral talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan and UK which are going to be held next month.’
The US currently has 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, after withdrawing some 23,000 this year. The White House is to spell out its plans for withdrawal in January.