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Cameron hints at Afghanistan troop withdrawal

British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters in Kabul that “real progress” made this year in the nine-year Afghan war must be made “irreversible” in 2011.


“2010 was without a doubt a year in which we made real progress. 2011 must be the year in which that progress becomes irreversible,” he told a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“There’s no scope for complacency… but I’m cautiously optimistic we have the right strategy. We are now a year into that strategy. We have put in the right resources to back it up,” Cameron said.

“President Karzai gives me confidence that our plans for transition are achievable,” he said, referring to plans to begin drawing down troops next year and end NATO’s combat mission by the end of 2014.

“We are going to make it happen.”

Britain has almost 10,000 troops in the war-ravaged country, the second largest contingent after the United States, with most of them deployed in Helmand, the heart of Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade.

Referring to reported criticism by US and Afghan officials of Britain’s effort in Helmand province, the Taliban’s drug capital where 10,000 British troops are currently deployed alongside 20,000 US Marines, Cameron said:

“There weren’t enough troops in the past. It’s clear now that we didn’t have enough troops in Helmand to actually deliver the security that was necessary.”

But he said the security situation in the restive province was now “getting progressively easier… people are rejecting the Taliban.”

Cameron flew to Kabul following an overnight visit in Helmand, where he met British troops and provincial governor Gulab Mangal, who criticised the British effort in US diplomatic cables leaked last week.

A possible friendly-fire incident at the weekend brought to 346 the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion that brought down the Taliban regime in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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