Bloomberg News

Cameron Forced Into Afghanistan Trip Diversion by Dust Storm

December 20, 2011

(Adds history of foreign trips starting in eighth paragraph.)

Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to divert a Christmas trip to visit British troops in Afghanistan by bad weather.

Cameron had planned to go to Camp Bastion, the base in southern Afghanistan from which most of the U.K.’s 9,500 troops in the country operate. A dust storm on the ground forced him to divert instead to Kandahar.

It is the latest mishap that Cameron, prime minister since May 2010, has had during foreign trips. Previous visits to Afghanistan have been overshadowed by security and political concerns, and this year he has had to cut short two official visits and his family vacation.

“No, I don’t feel particularly jinxed -- I’m very fortunate,” Cameron told reporters travelling with him. “You just have to take it as it comes in this job. What I’ve experienced today is what people working out here experience all the time: pretty extreme weather, a dust cloud descends, planes can’t land, helicopters can’t take off, plans have to change. There’s no point whinging about it.”

Instead, Cameron met Royal Air Force personnel based at Kandahar and U.S. General James Huggins, regional commander of south Afghanistan.

Asked about the path troop withdrawals will follow to reach his target of removing all combat forces by the end of 2014, the prime minister said international leaders will discuss the matter at a NATO summit in Chicago in May.

‘Cliff Edge’

“It is an ongoing conversation between allies about how exactly transition is progressing and what is the right way to reduce troop numbers,” Cameron said. “I don’t want to see some massive cliff edge in 2014. I don’t think that is practical. But I don’t think we need to make hard and fast decisions right now about precise numbers -- how many will be here in 2013 or 2014.”

Cameron’s first trip to Afghanistan as prime minister in June 2010 saw him forced to drop parts of his itinerary after the British military said Taliban forces, alerted to his presence by a live press conference in Kabul, might be planning to shoot down his helicopter.

His last visit, in July, was overshadowed by the news that News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid had hacked the phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Africa Trip

The hacking crisis, and the ensuing arrest of his former press chief, Andy Coulson, also led Cameron to cut short a trip to Africa later that month, shrinking it from five days to two days in order to return to London to address Parliament.

Paul Stephenson, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, resigned over the hacking scandal as Cameron was flying to South Africa in a plane full of journalists and business leaders. The premier spent the flight in urgent telephone conversations with ministers in London.

A month later, Cameron returned early from his family holiday in Italy after riots broke out across the U.K. Then in October, the premier canceled visits to Japan and New Zealand in order to attend an emergency European Union summit in Brussels on the euro-region debt crisis. He went ahead with part of the trip, visiting Perth in Australia, about 18 hours flying time from London, for a single night.

Some of Cameron’s overseas troubles have been self- inflicted. During a July 2010 trip, he compared the Gaza Strip with a prison camp while visiting Turkey, upsetting Israel, before saying Pakistan should not be allowed to “look both ways” on terrorism while in India, angering the government in Islamabad.

--With assistance from Thomas Penny in London. Editors: Eddie Buckle, James Hertling

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in Kandahar, Afghanistan, at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net


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