UK's Cameron does not want last-minute sharp fall in troops
KANDAHAR - Reuters
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (2nd R) walks through Kandahar airfield with Group Captain Gerry Mayhew (L), Wing Commander Scott Ray (2nd L) and Colonel Jim Morris Military Assistant (R) during a visit to meet British forces in Afghanistan December 20, 2011. REUTERS PhotoBritish Prime Minister David Cameron, on a pre-Christmas visit to troops in Afghanistan, indicated on Tuesday he favoured a major British troop cut in 2013 and did not want to leave sharp reductions until near the end-2014 deadline for halting combat operations.
Cameron's plans to visit troops at the main British bases in southern Afghanistan were disrupted when his huge C-17 transport plane was diverted because of a severe dust storm.
He abandoned plans to land at Camp Bastion, the main British base in violence-torn Helmand province, diverting instead to the NATO base at Kandahar, better equipped for landings in bad weather. He met some of the 400 British servicemen and women based there.
Western countries plan to remove most combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but Britain, like the United States, has not yet set out troop reduction numbers beyond 2012.
"It is an ongoing conversation between allies ... about how exactly transition is progressing and what is the right way to reduce troop numbers between effectively 2012 and 2014," Cameron told reporters accompanying him.
"I don't want to see some massive cliff edge in 2014," he said, meaning a very sharp drop in troop numbers.
"I don't think that is practical, but I don't think we need to make hard and fast decisions right now about precise numbers in how many will be here in 2013 or 14."
Cameron has said Britain will pull 500 soldiers from Afghanistan next year, cutting the number of British troops there to 9,000.
The government is looking at various options for reducing troop numbers after that, officials say. One recent report in The Guardian newspaper said the options were a cut of 4,000 British troops in 2013, a cut of 2,500 or a freeze in troop numbers until the end of 2013.
Cameron said discussion between allies on troop reductions would take place at a NATO summit in Chicago next year.
Between 2012 and the end of 2014, Cameron said coordination was needed with allies.
"I think we need to coordinate very closely in the buildup of the Afghan national security forces and make sure it is coordinated in that way," he said.
Cameron said he was "very clear" that British troops would not "backfill" in areas of Afghanistan vacated by troops other members of the alliance.