U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said Afghanistan will still face huge difficulties when NATO troops leave at the end of 2014, as he traveled to the U.S. to discuss the Afghan conflict with President Barack Obama.
The premier told reporters on board a flight to Washington yesterday there was a desire for “an endgame” in Afghanistan, where North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led forces have been fighting since 2001 after invading in the wake of al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
“I accept it won’t be a perfect democracy; there will be huge development problems,” Cameron said. “What I define as doing the job is leaving Afghanistan looking after its own security, not being a haven for terror, without the involvement of foreign troops. That should be our goal.”
More detail on the timetable for withdrawal will come at a NATO summit in Chicago in May. The U.K. is aiming to have its troops step away from their lead combat role by mid-2013, moving to support and training operations as Afghanistan’s own soldiers and police take responsibility for security.
“I think people want an endgame,” the prime minister said. “They want to know that our troops are going to come home, they have been there a very long time. So that the British public, our troops and the Afghan government, frankly, know there’s an end to this.”
Six British soldiers were killed when their armored vehicle was blown up in southern Afghanistan last week, the biggest loss of life in a single enemy action since the start of the Afghan war for the 9,500-strong U.K. contingent.
Further strain has been placed on the international mission by the killing on March 11 of at least 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by a U.S. Army staff sergeant. Obama pledged yesterday to “spare no effort” to fully investigate the killings.
Cameron and Obama, who meet at the White House today, will also discuss how to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad amid his troops’ bloody crackdown on rebels in the city of Homs. Russia and China have blocked United Nations Security Council action against Assad.
“We’re all frustrated by Syria,” Cameron said. “What’s happening in Homs is completely appalling. I’m endlessly kicking the tires and asking what else can be done.”
The premier said Britain would be willing to accept a change of leadership within the Syrian regime if it brought peace. “The shortest way of ending the violence is a transition where Assad goes,” he said. “Transition at the top rather than revolution at the bottom.”
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