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Nato leaders discussing Afghan exit

David Cameron is to join other Nato leaders in reaffirming their timetable to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

As alliance leaders and other members of the international force, Isaf, gathered in Chicago, the Prime Minister expressed his confidence that Afghan security forces would be able to prevent terrorists regaining a foothold once they had left.

He said that "one way or the other" the majority of British troops would be coming home as the Afghans took on responsibility for their own security. "We have to remember why we're in Afghanistan. We're there to stop it becoming a haven for terrorist training camps," he said.

"I'm very confident that one way or the other our troops will come home and Afghanistan will be looked after by Afghan security forces who will be capable of maintaining security in their country and, crucially for us, stopping it from being a terrorist training haven that can affect us at home in terms of terrorist attacks."

Nevertheless, a senior official has disclosed that a small number of British troops could stay on after 2014 in a counter-terrorism role in case al Qaida try to make a return to the country from where Osama bin Laden launched the 9/11 attacks.

It is the first time anyone in government has raised the prospect of any form of combat role for British troops after 2014, ministers having previously said any remaining troops would simply be their to train and mentor the Afghan forces.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai said his government knew what needed to be done as Isaf completed the transition to full Afghan control by the middle of 2013, before the final withdrawal the following year.

"Afghanistan is fully aware of the task ahead and of what Afghanistan needs to do to reach the objectives that we all have of a stable, peaceful and self-reliant Afghanistan," he said after meeting President Barack Obama.

The US president said he also believed that they were "on the right track", although he acknowledged that there were still further obstacles to overcome. He said: "We still have a lot of work to do, and there will be great challenges ahead. The loss of life continues in Afghanistan; there will be hard days ahead. But we're confident that we are on the right track."

The summit sparked protests in Chicago, with some demonstrators hurling sticks and bottles at police. After a clash near McCormick Place, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said the protests had so far resulted in 45 people being arrested and four officers suffering injuries - one from a stab wound in the leg.

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