July 5 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said the progress being made by Afghan forces toward ensuring the country’s security justifies plans to start withdrawing British combat troops.
Cameron said on a visit to the Afghan capital, Kabul, today that he’d be making an announcement to lawmakers in London tomorrow about “a modest reduction” in the U.K.’s 9,500-strong force next year. The prime minister, who’s pledged to have all U.K. combat troops out of Afghanistan by 2015, said 426 soldiers will leave this year.
“It’s right to start planning the withdrawal of some of our troops,” Cameron said at a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “We’re on track, it can be done and we’re determined to make sure it happens in terms of the time lines we have set out.”
The prime minister said while visiting British troops at Camp Bastion in the southern province of Helmand yesterday that the Afghan conflict is entering a “new phase.” President Barack Obama pledged June 22 to withdraw 33,000 U.S. soldiers by the end of next year.
“We are still properly engaged in Afghanistan and still in one of the toughest parts of the country,” Cameron said. He said yesterday that the reduction in troop numbers doesn’t signal any “radical change” in strategy.
Cameron had to cancel a visit yesterday to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, so that his helicopter could be used in the search for a missing British soldier. The soldier, who went missing in the early hours of yesterday, was later found dead with gunshot wounds, the Ministry of Defense said.
“There will continue to be incidents: the trick isn’t that we have completely finished off the insurgency, but by the time we transition out finally, the Afghan National Security force is going to handle it,” General David Richards, the chief of the U.K. defense staff, told reporters yesterday. “I’m confident that all we’re seeing at the moment reassures us that the plan is doable. We’re in a very comfortable space at the moment and I can’t see why that should change.”
Concerns were raised about the ability of Afghan forces to deal with the insurgency without outside support on June 28 when Taliban guerrillas stormed the Hotel Inter-Continental in Kabul, killing 12. A standoff between Afghan security forces and the gunmen was ended when a NATO helicopter was called in to fire on three militants on the hotel roof.
Cameron said today that the Taliban can’t win the fight and called on them to be part of the future government of Afghanistan, drawing a parallel with Northern Ireland, where former terrorists have positions in government.
“To the Taliban, the message is very clear, stop killing, stop bombing, stop fighting, put down your weapons, join a political process and you can be part of the future of this country,” Cameron said. “I’ve seen it in my own country, in Northern Ireland, where people involved in trying to kill, maim and bomb civilians, police officers, army personnel and even politicians have become politicians themselves and are now involved in the governance of that country.”
--Editors: Eddie Buckle, Andrew Atkinson
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