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PM pressed over Afghan exit plan

David Cameron faces more pressure to speed the drawdown of British forces from Afghanistan as the US announces details of its exit plan.

President Barack Obama is expected to say that some 10,000 American troops will leave the country this year. Half that number could go next month, and half in the winter.

Mr Obama is also due to give an indication of when the other 20,000 personnel who were part of the "surge" strategy implemented in December 2009 will be withdrawn. The path to ending the US's fighting role by 2015 will be set out in a televised presidential address from the White House.

Military commanders on both sides of the Atlantic have suggested that they want the timetable for extracting forces to be slower.

In an interview for BBC Two documentary Afghanistan: War Without End?, Britain's top soldier General Sir Peter Wall stressed that the Army was "committed" to the 2015 deadline for ceasing combat operations.

But he added that "whether or not it turns out to be an absolute timeline or more conditions-based approach nearer the time, we shall find out".

General Wall was also asked if he accepted that many of the "hearts and minds" of Afghan civilians had in fact been lost, instead of won over by the Army. He replied: "Undoubtedly. Yeah, undoubtedly. I accept that."

Speaking on the same programme, the Prime Minister insisted there would be no movement from the 2015 deadline. "The deadline is a deadline, and it won't slip because I'm very clear that the British people deserve to have a clear end point," he said.

Mr Cameron's spokesman was challenged over whether Gen Wall's suggestion that there might be a "conditions-based approach" to withdrawal from Afghanistan meant that the 2015 target could change.

The spokesman replied: "2015 is a deadline, based on an internationally agreed strategy which will see responsibility transferred to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. What happens between now and 2015 and the rate of change will obviously be determined by the conditions on the ground. We believe that the strategy will be effective."

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