Afghanistan: Exact Withdrawal Timing 'Undecided', Says Downing Street

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CAMERON AFGHANISTAN
Prime Minister David Cameron meets with aircrew and ground crew from 12 (B) squadron at Kandahar airfield, during his a pre-Christmas visit to troops in Afghanistan | PA

No decisions have yet been taken on the exact timing of withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan after the end of this year, prime minister David Cameron's spokesman has said.

The spokesman declined to comment on reports that military chiefs are resisting pressure from Cabinet ministers to speed up the drawdown and bring most troops home a year before schedule by the end of 2013.

The government previously announced plans for the bulk of Britain's 9,500 deployment in Helmand to be withdrawn by the end of 2014, with 500 coming home this year and the remainder being pulled out gradually over the following two years.

But The Sun newspaper reports that ministers, including Oliver Letwin and chancellor George Osborne, favour a swifter pull-out, believing that withdrawal by the end of next year could save the government £3 billion. The paper quoted an unnamed senior military source as saying that this would "risk losing everything we've fought so hard for" and would leave remaining troops more vulnerable to attack.

"The (military) chiefs are digging in and will resist this all the way," said the source.

Asked about the report at a regular media briefing in Westminster, Mr Cameron's official spokesman said: "We have made clear that British troops will not be in a combat role beyond the end of 2014. We have made an announcement about the reduction in personnel by the end of this year, which is a further 500 coming out.

"No decisions have been taken on troop withdrawals beyond that but, as the prime minister has made clear, we want to see a steady and measured troop drawdown.

"What you would expect us to do is to consider these issues at the appropriate time. That would be a discussion I would expect to take place at the National Security Council and when we have made a judgment, we will make an announcement.

"Those discussions still need to take place, and the PM has given a very clear indication of the way he sees this happening, which is a steady way."

Precise plans for withdrawal will also be discussed with Britain's allies in the ISAF international military force in Afghanistan, said the spokesman.