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Afghanistan Withdrawal Could Be Speeded Up, Cameron Hints

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AFGHANISTAN
Cameron has hinted at a speedy withdrawal | PA

David Cameron has hinted that Britain's withdrawal from Afghanistan could be speeded up amid suggestions the force size could be nearly halved by next year.

In a video call, the Prime Minister and US president Barack Obama agreed there would be "further opportunities" for service personnel to be brought home over the next 12 months, as the plan for troops to leave by the end of 2014 was "on track".

Cameron also discussed Syria, Iran and the Middle East Peace Process during the hour-long call this afternoon, Downing Street said.

"On Afghanistan, they discussed progress on the plan to hand security responsibility from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the Afghan National Security Forces, and agreed that the Nato strategy to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 was on track," a spokeswoman said.

"This would present further opportunities for ISAF countries to bring troops home next year and they agreed to stay in close touch as detailed plans develop.

"They also agreed on joint work to strengthen the political process, particularly supporting Afghanistan and her neighbours to work together for stability, building on the trilateral discussions with Pakistan led by the UK."

Mr Cameron is widely expected to make a statement to MPs on Afghanistan tomorrow - although Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is currently slated to deliver the update.

The UK contingent force is being reduced from 9,500 to 9,000 before Christmas. And there is speculation it could be cut to around 5,000 after next summer's fighting season.

The US currently has around 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, after withdrawing around 23,000 this year.

ISAF commanders in the country have reportedly been giving optimistic reports of progress by Afghan security forces.

However, there have also been claims that investors are pulling out of the troubled state due to fears that Taliban insurgents will resurface when Western troops leave.