[credit provider=”Getty / Dan Kitwood”]
British troops could return home from Afghanistan even “faster” than planned, David Cameron has said, as 3,800 troops are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of next year.The Prime Minister has already announced this week that 3,800 troops currently in the country will be withdrawn by the end of next year, with the remaining 5,200 due home before 2015.
But, after visiting a military camp in Helmand province on Thursday, Mr Cameron said he was encouraged to see the Afghan security forces leading operations against insurgents.
Speaking to reporters at Camp Bastion, the main operational headquarters for British troops, Mr Cameron said the proposed timetable for troop withdrawals was “flexible”.
“Of course there is always flexibility in any plan,” he said. “But I would make the point that so far things have surprised on the upside in terms of the capability of the Afghan forces.
“So we might be able to move a little bit faster. Let’s see how things go. Of course there is flexibility.”
He added that the deadline of ending combat operations by 2014 was “fixed”.
“By the end of 2014 there won’t be British forces in a Combat role.
“What is obviously moveable is how the transition goes.
“We have a plan and obviously quite a lot of the transition takes place after September 2013,” he said.
“But there is flexibility because all the time commanders are seeing how fast Afghan forces can take over.”
One Afghan team detected and made safe 26 roadside bombs in one day recently.
The Prime Minister toured the control centre at the forward operating base, Camp Price, which the British use for operations deeper into Helmand.
He said had been impressed to see the Afghan military leading a operation during his visit, with the British in support.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Cameron said he believed Afghan forces were acquiring the “capability” to control the country. He conceded that Afghanistan was still a “deeply challenged country”, adding that it was still “a far better place” than when the campaign began in 2001.
“We have paid a very heavy price but I think the reason for coming here in the first place, which was to stop Afghanistan becoming a haven for terror … I think it was the right decision.”
The Prime Minister disclosed that he was seeing fewer terrorist threats crossing his desk from the region than in previous years. “Far fewer come from this part of the world than was the case when we first came to Afghanistan,” he said.
The Afghan forces were doing “better than expected,” he said, enabling British troops to come home.
“This is withdrawal, this is draw-down based on success, not on failure. We are confident it can be done while making sure Afghanistan does not return to become a haven of terrorism, which is why we came here in the first place.”
General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the army, said the troop withdrawal announcement was “consistent with the military plan to finish our combat operations by the end of 2014”.
Asked if the pullout timings could change, he added: “We will have to see how things play out.
“But it is very much our intention to continue our handover to Afghan security forces who are doing a very good job.
“We have every reason to believe that they will continue on that track.”
Mr Cameron later flew to Oman to see a deal signed between BAE Systems and the government of Oman.
He said British troops could be permanently stationed in the UAE in future. Some forces are based in Bahrain and British aircraft are stationed in UAE and Qatar.
“I think what you are seeing significantly in the UAE is not just a plan to sell Typhoon aircraft but a big, significant defence cooperation, which could lead to more British troops stationed in the country,” the Prime Minister said.
“I think this is an exciting possibility for both countries, to have a proper strategic defence relationship and defence partnership.
“I think that is the way the world is going. People don’t just want to buy equipment now, they want to have proper industrial defence partnerships.
“Where we have strong alliances like with the UAE I think it is all to the good.”