General: Afghan deadline overstated
The significance of a deadline to start withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan next summer has been "overstated", the top British general in Kabul has said.
Lieutenant General Sir Nick Parker, deputy commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, said it is "entirely reasonable" for some personnel to go home in line with the July 2011 timetable set by US President Barack Obama.
But he played down the importance of the date and said military advice would be for "as few as possible" to be pulled out next year.
Speaking via video link from Kabul, Lt Gen Parker said: "It is entirely reasonable for there to be some drawdown of some sort, although I suggest that all the indicators I've heard are this is not as significant as some people choose to make it out to be.
"We will by July next year have many more Afghans in the front line and we will have many more Isaf (Nato-led International Security Assistance Force) troops providing enabling and supporting functions."
He described the July 2011 deadline as "an interesting milestone" but added: "It's been interpreted by people as they would wish. I suspect there's some domestic politics in certain countries where it's been overstated."
Lt Gen Parker, who is about to return to the UK to become Commander-in-Chief Land Forces, predicted that by next summer British troops in Helmand province will be able to hand over responsibility for frontline security to Afghan police and soldiers in many places.
But he warned: "My military advice is, we should be cautious. We should not in any way let the Afghans feel that we are not supporting them and allowing them to do what will remain a very challenging security task.
"This is a debate which we need to be very measured about."
He added: "My military assessment is that we will still have numbers of our troops in advisory roles right on the front line in positions of considerable peril, but right alongside their Afghan partners."