Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Army withdrawal could be speeded up

Prime Minister David Cameron eating dinner with British soldiers during a visit to Forward Operating Base Price in Helmand Province, Afghanistan

British troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan even faster after better-than-expected progress by the country's own security forces, David Cameron has signalled.

The Prime Minister announced this week that UK numbers would be nearly halved to 5,200 next year as part of the plan to end combat operations in 2014.

But, during a pre-Christmas visit to troops in Camp Bastion, he indicated that the process could be speeded up further.

The comments come despite warnings from some quarters that western powers appear to be cutting and running from Afghanistan - potentially leaving the door open for a Taliban resurgence.

But Mr Cameron hailed the performance of the Afghan police and army, saying the timetable was on track. "Of course there is always flexibility in any plan," he told journalists at a briefing. "But I would make the point that so far things have surprised on the upside in terms of the capability of Afghan forces. So we might be able to move a little faster."

He added: "The 2014 deadline is fixed. By the end of 2014 there won't be British forces in a combat role. What's obviously moveable is how the transition goes."

Head of the Army General Sir Peter Wall, also at the Camp Bastion headquarters in Helmand province, said the troop withdrawal announcement was "consistent with the military plan to finish our combat operations here in Afghanistan by the end of 2014".

Asked if the pullout timings could change, he added: "We will have to see how things play out. But it is very much our intention to continue our handover to Afghan security forces who are doing a very good job. We have every reason to believe that they will continue on that track."

Military commanders have been stressing the recent improvement by Afghan security forces.

Police officers apparently safely cleared 26 IED devices in just one day earlier this month, while native soldiers have been leading increasing numbers of operations against insurgents.

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