UK PM: Afghan drawdown won't ease pressure on Taliban

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 23, 2011 10:41 AM
UK PM: Afghan drawdown won't ease pressure on Taliban

By Jason Hovet

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The planned U.S. troop reduction in Afghanistan does not mean any relaxation in pressure on the insurgency, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday, while his government resisted calls to detail its own withdrawal timeline.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday he planned to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer. After the withdrawal, about 70,000 U.S. troops will remain there.

During a visit to fellow NATO member Czech Republic, Cameron said it was significant that only 10,000 of the troops would leave this year, with the remainder in 2012.

"What this means is there will be no let-up in the pressure on the insurgency in Afghanistan," he told a media briefing.

"I'm satisfied that the removal of the (U.S. troop) surge will still enable us to keep up the pressure on the insurgency as we transition to Afghan control between now and 2014."

Obama's plan will bring home the entire "surge" force that he sent to Afghanistan in 2010.

Although the war is unpopular among American voters, military advisers have said a rapid departure from Afghanistan is not a good idea because they fear it could allow Taliban insurgents to quickly regain lost territory.

U.S. and NATO forces, with Britain and Germany supplying the next largest contingents, have been unable to deal a decisive blow to the Taliban, which was ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001.

2015 "FIRM DEADLINE"

Britain has the second-biggest foreign troop contingent in Afghanistan with around 9,500 troops. Most of them are in the southern Helmand province, one of the most violent areas, and 374 have died in the decade-long war.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday he would follow Washington in starting a gradual withdrawal of France's 4,000 troops in the U.S.- and NATO-led operation.

But in London, Cameron's spokesman said only that Britain would study the U.S. proposal. He would not reveal if Britain would follow its lead and announce a detailed drawdown timetable.

"We will consider the U.S. announcement. The national security council will consider that. We will probably have more to say about that in due course," the prime minister's spokesman told reporters.

Cameron said last year British troops could start leaving Afghanistan in five years, with 1,000 trainers to stay on.

Britain plans to make a "conditions based" withdrawal and expects its combat troops out of Afghanistan by 2015. The spokesman said the term "conditions based" would not allow wiggle room for an extended stay.

"Conditions based, we are talking about the rate at which it proves possible to transition security to the Afghan security forces ... We will do that by the end of 2014," the spokesman said. "It is a deadline -- 2015 is a firm deadline." (Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas in London; writing by Michael Winfrey and Mark Heinrich; editing by Philippa Fletcher)