UK's Cameron eyes 2011 Afghan pullout

British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting Afghanistan on an unannounced trip, said troops could start withdrawing from the country as early as next year.

UK's Cameron eyes 2011 Afghan pullout

British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting Afghanistan on an unannounced trip, said troops could start withdrawing from the country as early as next year.

Britain has the second-biggest foreign troop contingent in Afghanistan after the United States, and Cameron, who was on his sixth visit to Afghanistan, has said he wants British troops out of combat roles by 2015.

Cameron's second visit to Afghanistan as prime minister comes days after leaked American diplomatic cables showed heavy criticism by US and Afghan officials of the role of British forces in occupation.

Speaking to reporters at Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand province, Cameron said he believed the 2011 date was feasible.

"In terms of the ground being covered, the amount of public being protected, the training of the Afghan National Army that is ahead of schedule, the Helmand police training centre and also the mood of the Paras and Royal Scots that I met -- I think that does give you grounds for cautious optimism that this is going in the right direction," he said.

Downing Street gave no date for the end of his visit.

He was accompanied by Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Richards, who had previously ruled out the prospects of a British withdrawal starting next year.

Asked if he now believed 2011 was realistic, Richards said: "I do.

"It is conditions-based next year but looking at the progress we have made -- I was only here three months ago -- it is quite astronomical how quickly things are coming together."

Cameron held talks on Tuesday with Helmand governor Gulab Mangal, provincial government spokesman Daud Ahmadi said.

Mangal was cited in the cables released by Internet whistleblower WikiLeaks as one of the officials criticising the British.

According to US cables in January 2009, the governor accused the British of doing too little "to interact with the local community", instead being holed up in their main base in Sangin district.

President Hamid Karzai was quoted in February 2009 as saying that British incompetence had led to a breakdown in law and order.

And in April 2007, General Dan McNeill, then NATO commander in Afghanistan, was quoted as saying he was particularly dismayed by the British who had made a mess of things in Helmand owing to the wrong tactics.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived at the sprawling Bagram Air Base just north of the capital, Kabul.

Gates will also meet Karzai and U.S. and NATO commanders.

"(The trip) is taking place just as the National Security Council is in the midst of its evaluation of that strategy, so clearly what the secretary learns here, what he sees here, what he takes from here, will inform the discussion that is taking place back in Washington," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters travelling with Gates.

At a conference in Lisbon last month, NATO leaders agreed to meet Karzai's timeline for foreign troops to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Cameron, who arrived on Monday, shrugged off recent criticism of the troops' role.

"When you look at what was said, it was relating to a previous period, when we all know now there weren't enough troops in Helmand," Cameron said in Helmand late on Monday.


Agencies

Last Mod: 07 Aralık 2010, 15:26
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