British PM eyes Afghan troop withdrawal within five years

25th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday he wants troops home from Afghanistan within five years, conceding the war-torn country would not be "perfect" before that happened.

While he would not outline a "strict timetable" for a withdrawal, Cameron said he wanted to see British troops leave before the next British general elections due by 2015.

"We can't be there for another five years, having been there for nine years already," Cameron, who took office last month, told Sky News television, on the sidelines of a Group of Eight summit.

Asked whether he wanted troops home by the time of the next election, Cameron said: "I want that to happen, make no mistake about it."

Britain is the second largest contributor to the international force in Afghanistan after the United States and his comments came during a particularly bloody month for the roughly 10,000 British forces there.

Some 307 British troops have died since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan and June has been the deadliest single month for US-led foreign forces in the nearly nine-year conflict, according to an AFP tally.

His comments came towards the end of a turbulent week for international forces after the commander of NATO and US troops there, General Stanley McChrystal, was fired.

McChrystal and his aides had made critical comments about the Obama administration in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. He has been replaced by General David Petraeus, a key figure in the war in Iraq.

A Downing Street spokesman, speaking from the G8 summit in Huntsville, Canada, insisted Cameron's comments did not represent a change in tack in Britain's approach to the war.

"There's no change in strategy or policy. This shows the prime minister's determination to make the existing strategy work," he said.

Talking about a withdrawal of British troops, Cameron said he would "prefer not to see it in strict timetables."

"I want us to roll up our sleeves and get on with delivering what will bring the success we want, which is not a perfect Afghanistan, but some stability in Afghanistan and the ability for the Afghans themselves to run their country so (troops) can come home," he added.

But Cameron also insisted that Britain should "have a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, including helping to train their troops and their civil society, long after the vast bulk of troops have gone home."

Four British soldiers died in a road crash in Afghanistan Wednesday in what Cameron described as a "completely tragic case." He has also warned of a tough period ahead for troops battling Taliban Islamic militants.

"It will be a difficult summer, but we are getting to a period where parts of Afghanistan can now be run by the Afghans themselves. That is a very exciting prospect for bringing our troops home," he told ITV television.

Cameron, of the center-right Conservatives, took power last month as head of a coalition government with the centrist Liberal Democrats.

© 2010 AFP

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