POLITICS
16/12/2013 14:39 GMT | Updated 16/12/2013 15:04 GMT

David Cameron Claims 'Mission Accomplished' In Afghanistan, Is It?

David Cameron has claimed British troops have achieved their mission in Afghanistan, more than 10 years after they were first deployed.

The prime minister made the statement during a surprise Christmas visit to the military's Camp Bastion base. Cameron said there would no UK combat troops left in the country by the end of next year.

Asked by reporters if the troops come home with "mission accomplished", Cameron said: "Yes, I think they do. I think they can come home with their heads held high."

He added: "To me, the absolute driving part of the mission is a basic level of security so it doesn't become a haven for terror. That is the mission, that was the mission and I think we will have accomplished that mission and so our troops can be very proud of what they have done."

The statement has unfortunate echos of when president George W Bush prematurely declared victory in the Iraq War. Standing on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on 1 May 2003, less than three months after the US-led invasion, Bush said that "in the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

While the president did not utter the infamous phrase "mission accomplished", he made the speech under a giant banner bearing the slogan.

The incident came to represent the failure of the United States and Britain to adequately prepare for the initial invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Conservative MP John Baron, a member of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said it was perhaps "premature" for the prime minister to have declared mission accomplished in Afghanistan. He told The Hufffington Post UK that while the initial mission, ridding the country of Al Qaeda, had completed "relatively early on" after US and UK forces deployed troops in 2001, the same could not be said of hopes of re-shaping Afghanistan as a stable democracy.

"The original mission was accomplished many years ago. We went in to rid the country of Al Qaeda," he said. "Our mistake was allowing the mission to morph into nation building, which meant we had to take on the Taliban. I think the jury is still out as to whether we’ve accomplished that mission. It's on shaky foundations."

And Baron said "in one guise or another" the West would be "handing back chunks of Afghanistan to the Taliban" once British and American forces withdrew.

He said: "Is that success? If you're handing large chunks back to the Taliban and you're second mission was to defeat the Taliban in order to create a nation state in your own image, in many respects, I don’t call that success."

david cameron

David Cameron talks to British soldiers at Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan

Around 5,200 British troops are now based in Afghanistan, down from 9,000 at the start of the year. There have been 446 British deaths.

Cameron told Sky News: "I said, back in 2010, that after the end of 2014 there would not be British troops in a combat role and we will stick to that. The timetable for the withdrawal of British troops is a plan that we will stick to."

"We have more than played our part in helping to rebuild this country and making it safe. Our commitment goes on into the future but our troops have done enough and it's time for them to come home."