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Afghan occupation 'turning corner'

Nick Clegg has insisted the military campaign in Afghanistan is "turning the corner" as he made a surprise visit to the country.

British forces have been "creating the space" in which a political settlement could be reached with elements of the Taliban who are prepared to renounce violence, according to the Deputy Prime Minister.

He added that the UK coalition Government's 2015 deadline for all British combat troops to be pulled out will not be extended.

Mr Clegg spoke at Camp Bastion base after spending Monday night and Tuesday in southern Helmand.

He praised the "bravery and professionalism" of the UK's 10,000-plus force, stressing how much the situation had seen a "complete transformation" since his only previous visit in 2008.

"We hear so much bad news," he told a group of around 50 troops training in a mocked-up Afghan village.

"Of course the country mourns when people lose their lives. People are full of anguish when there are serious injuries. But what I have seen today is a complete transformation of the military effort that I first saw when I visited two years ago.

"When I was here two years ago there were arguments about equipment, there were doubts about whether we had sufficient people and resources. There was real concern over whether we had the right strategy. But now two years later - I was in Nad-i-Ali this morning, two years ago we barely had a footprint there. Now the district governor's telling me he knows of young Taliban fighters putting down their arms to participate in a peaceful life.

"I think you are turning the corner, and what you are doing is you're creating the space for Afghan society to find its own feet."

He said the British military commitment is "completely consistent" with President Hamid Karzai's plans for Afghan forces to take control of security by 2014 and insisted that the looming deep cuts in the Ministry of Defence budget would not hit supplies for frontline troops.

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