Afghan troop withdrawal: David Cameron set to order more British troops home
David Cameron is to order more British troops out of Afghanistan after Barack Obama on Wednesday night confirmed plans for a significant US withdrawal.
Photo: JASON HOWE
Mr Cameron spoke to the US president via videophone to coordinate British and US withdrawal plans before Mr Obama addressed the American nation on live TV.
Before the speech, advisers said that the US was bringing troops home from a "position of strength" in Afghanistan.
Mr Obama was on Wednesday night expected to confirm the withdrawal of 33,000 troops, up to 10,000 of them by the end of this year.
Following the killing of Osama bin Laden, Western forces are "on the way" to destroying the al-Qaeda network, White House sources said.
The Prime Minister is set to use Mr Obama's declaration of progress in Afghanistan to justify the gradual end of Britain's mission.He has already confirmed that almost 450 of Britain's 9,500 troops will start leaving soon but Whitehall sources said that a second, smaller withdrawal will come towards the end of the year, with another, larger reduction likely next autumn.
Like Mr Obama, Mr Cameron has faced resistance from military commanders who fear that a hasty withdrawal could jeopardise progress against the Taliban.
The Prime Minister has largely accepted calls to give combat forces two more summer "fighting seasons" before any major reduction.
British sources said Mr Cameron would make no immediate announcement following the US move. Instead, he is expected to set out his plans to MPs, perhaps as early as next week, following a final assessment of "conditions on the ground."
After 10 years of British operations, Mr Cameron is keen to offer voters signs of progress and a clear exit strategy.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday arrived in Kabul after touring Helmand. He hailed "positive changes" and "discernible economic progress being made across the country."
Mr Cameron has said all British combat operations in Afghanistan will cease by 2015, the year of the next general election.
The pledge has raised military suspicions that political concerns are driving defence policy, and General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the Army, this week suggested the 2015 timetable could slip.
But Downing Street yesterday insisted that it was "a deadline" and will not change.
Underlining that message, Mr Hague added: "By 2015, there will be no UK troops in Afghanistan in combat roles, but we will continue to work closely with the Afghan Government and people for many years to come."
Despite Mr Cameron's deadline to end combat operations by 2015, military leaders including Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, have made clear that Britain will retain a major presence in Afghanistan, supporting and training Afghan forces.
With more Americans than ever opposing the war and its $2 billion-a week cost, Mr Obama's televised address from the White House was intended to mark the beginning of the end of the long US deployment from its current high point of 100,000.
Mr Obama was expected to go against his military commanders' wishes and announce the withdrawal of 10,000 US troops, a third of the surge forces, by the end of the year, with 5,000 of those coming home next month.More