PM 'confident' on Afghan troops vow
David Cameron insisted that he was "confident" he could meet his promise to bring British troops back from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 as he arrived in Helmand Province for a tour of Camp Bastion.
The Prime Minister said an announcement about the number of soldiers being brought back in 2013 would be made by the end of this year after being told significant progress had been made on the ground.
Mr Cameron defended major reductions in troop numbers, which will see a 20% reduction in the manpower of the regular Army, admitting it was a "difficult decision" but he insisted he could "look all the Armed Forces in the eye" because it had been the right thing to do.
As the PM arrived in Camp Bastion, the UK's largest Afghan base - his first visit in 12 months after a planned trip at Christmas had to be aborted following a sand storm - military sources warned that the Army must maintain a strong presence in country to ensure it remains a viable state.
They said the plans were for a "glide path down" on troop numbers as Britain prepares to pull out by the end of 2014 but warned against cutbacks if the Government wants to meet its aims in the state.
"If the Prime Minister's policy aims don't change - and that is to maintain a viable state with an Afghan National Security Force that can protect its borders and counter terrorism - then we need to maintain a strong presence," the senior source said.
Mr Cameron said the Government had had to make "difficult decisions" about funding but insisted the coalition had a defence budget that "makes sense".
Mr Cameron visited frontline troops from the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment at the Shawqat base in Nad-e-Ali and saw a provincial reconstruction team in Lashkar Gah.
He said: "What I will commit to is that we will do this in a sensible, ordered, practical way - 9,500 to 9,000 this year. As Afghan troops take a bigger role we will be able to reduce troop numbers further next year.
"I don't want to see some cliff edge. I'm confident we are going to have a staged reduction and deliver a safe and secure situation. I'm confident we can bring the British troops home as I promised by the end of 2014."