CAMP ROUND MEADOW, Maryland (Reuters) - Britain may keep a small number of soldiers in Afghanistan to fight terrorism after 2014, when NATO forces are due to end combat operations, a senior British government official said on Saturday.
It is the first time Britain has given any indication it may keep forces in Afghanistan after 2014 apart from a small training contingent.
Britain plans to withdraw 500 soldiers from its 9,500-strong force in Afghanistan this year before ending combat operations in 2014 when Afghan security forces are due to have taken over responsibility for security.
"As we've said previously, British forces will not remain in a combat role in Afghanistan beyond 2014," the official said before the start of a NATO summit in Chicago on Sunday that will be dominated by Afghanistan.
"The majority of forces that remain in Afghanistan will be in a training and mentoring role," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"But I wouldn't rule out a small number of forces playing a counterterrorism role if needed. This would be in keeping with how we are working to protect ourselves from the terrorism threat emanating from other parts of the world, such as the Arabian Peninsula," the official said.
Britain has said previously that about 120 British troops will help train Afghan officers at a military academy modeled on Britain's prestigious Sandhurst.
Britain, which currently has the second largest foreign force fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan after the United States, has not yet set out plans for how many troops it will withdraw in 2013 and 2014.
British military planners are expected to put proposals to ministers on the timing of future withdrawals in the next few months.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Jim Loney)