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Minister hints at even earlier Afghan pullout for Britain

By Elizabeth Barrett

The withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan, due by the end of 2014, could be accelerated if the US judged it was safe, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said.

As well as removing troops from harm's way, an early departure would have a financial benefit, as the UK's presence in the country costs about £3bn a year.

But the move would alarm commanders who fear leaving too early would jeopardise gains made at the cost of British lives, and retained by “boots on the ground”.

Britain has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, with 500 to pull out of Helmand this year.

“We haven't yet decided what the profile of the draw-down is going to be between this autumn and the end of 2014. That is something we will look at towards the end of this year,” Mr Hammond said.

“It's very important that we draw down in tandem with our allies so that we can draw down in good order and leave behind a fitting legacy of the sacrifice that so many British service people have made in Afghanistan.”

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