No British combat troops in Afghanistan after 2015: Cameron

20th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain will withdraw all of its combat troops from Afghanistan before the end of 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron promised on Saturday, making what he called a "firm commitment".

"The commitment we have entered into today to transfer lead responsibility for security to the Afghan government by the end of 2014 will pave the way for British troops to be out of Afghanistan by 2015," he said.

"This is a firm deadline that we will meet," he told reporters at the NATO summit in Lisbon, staking out a tougher position on troop withdrawals than other NATO allies, who have not set a final cut-off date for operations.

NATO members agreed on Friday that they would begin to hand over command of some regions to Afghan forces next year, and aim to have the Afghan government take charge of the war against the Taliban in 2014.

But the largest coalition member, the United States, has made it clear that it expects to have troops in combat alongside Afghan forces beyond then.

Britain has the second largest commitment to the NATO-led mission, with some 10,000 soldiers in Helmand province in the violent south of the country.

Cameron said he thought the alliance would understand his decision, and paid tribute to British troops for having taken on one of the toughest of NATO's missions.

"We will have an ongoing relationship with Afghanistan. We spend development money in Afghanistan. We will still have a diplomatic relationship ... we may well have troops helping to train their armed forces," he said.

"But what I'm saying is, from 2015 there won't be troops in anything like the numbers there are now. There won't be combat troops. That is completely consistent with what NATO said," he insisted.

"But I think the British public need to know, that after having gone into Afghanistan in 2001, after having gone into Helmand province in 2006, having taken such a huge share of the burden ... that there is an end point."

British forces have lost 345 troops in Afghanistan since joining the 2001 US-led invasion, which aimed to hunt down the Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Once the Taliban regime was toppled, and Al-Qaeda's commanders had fled, the mission became a long-term counter-insurgency against Taliban guerrillas and public support for the war collapsed.

© 2010 AFP

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