Under guard: Prime Minister Cameron, flanked by soldiers and security staff,
undertakes a walkabout at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.
Cameron agrees to a slower Afghan pullout
Defense chiefs have won a crunch battle over troop numbers in Afghanistan after David Cameron agreed to make only a ‘modest’ cut before the end of next year.
On his visit to Afghanistan yesterday, the Prime Minister made clear that British frontline troops will be gone by the end of 2014.
But he bowed to demands from generals not to reduce dramatically the 9,500 ground forces battling the Taliban before the end of next year’s summer fighting season.
When Mr Cameron makes a formal announcement to Parliament tomorrow he is expected to announce that no more than 500 troops will be pulled out before autumn 2012. Yesterday he claimed Afghanistan was ‘entering a new phase’ where Afghan troops could shoulder more of the security burden.
Mr Cameron met with medical staff, including a surgeon wearing a Union
Flag headscarf, at the base's military hospital
Mr Cameron said: ‘As that happens there will be opportunities to bring some British soldiers home. We’re talking relatively small numbers over a period of time.’
Britain’s most senior officer in Afghanistan, Lt-Gen James Bucknall, said recently that Nato troops need two more fighting seasons to suppress the Taliban. Most insurgents retreat during the cold winters. The Prime Minister confirmed he had bowed to the Army’s wishes. ‘You’ve got an enduring number of 9,500 this year and you’re not going to see a radical change for the fighting season of next year.
Mr Cameron made clear that his deadline of bringing combat troops home before 2015 is set in stone, regardless of the situation on the ground. ‘I’ve always been clear. The end of 2014 is a deadline. We won’t be here in large numbers or in a combat role,’ he said.
‘It is my judgment that it’s right for the British public to know, for the Afghan public to know and the Afghan and British military to know that there is an endpoint.’ Asked if the generals had won, a senior officer said last night: ‘We have. We have ended up in the right place.’
General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defense Staff, who was traveling with Mr Cameron, said British and Afghan troops were on course to allow a withdrawal of all combat forces by the end of 2014.
For more on this story