Britain pledges long-term help to Afghanistan

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague pledged Wednesday that his country would be a "friend for the long-term" to Afghanistan as the US was poised to announce troop withdrawals.

Hague was on a joint three-day visit to Afghanistan with his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

Britain is the second-largest contributor of foreign troops in Afghanistan, with some 9,500, mainly in the south.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said it is set to withdraw 450 by the end of this year but Hague did not comment on when Britain would unveil any further withdrawals.

"By 2015, we will not have troops here in a combat role or anything like their present numbers but we will be a friend for the long-term with our expertise, our economic cooperation and development aid," he told a news conference in Kabul.

All foreign combat troops are due to leave the country by the end of 2014.

Asked about talks with the Taliban after the US confirmed Sunday it was in very early stage contact with the insurgents, Hague said that while "contacts do take place," he could not give further details.

Hague and his UAE counterpart met President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul while in Kabul to discuss issues including "Afghan efforts on the political process including reconciliation," a Foreign Office statement said.

The UAE only has 35 troops in Afghanistan but it has hosted regional talks on the situation in Afghanistan.

The two ministers also earlier visited Lashkar Gah in the restive southern province of Helmand.

Britain is in charge of the provincial reconstruction team in Lashkar Gah, one of seven areas in the first wave to transition to Afghan control from July as limited troop withdrawals start.

US President Barack Obama, whose country provides the bulk of the foreign force in Afghanistan, was expected to announce the withdrawal of 10,000 US troops by the end of the year, according to a senior official.

© 2011 AFP

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