'Hundreds of UK troops' in Afghanistan after 2015

Gen Richards said the UK's role was not to "extinguish the insurgency"

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Hundreds of British soldiers will stay in Afghanistan after the UK pulls out combat troops, the chief of the defence staff has said.

The government wants troops to leave by 2015, but says some will remain to support and train Afghan forces.

General Sir David Richards said the final figure was undecided, but it would be hundreds rather than thousands.

Their role is to prevent Afghanistan being used as a terrorist base.

Gen Richards, speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr programme, said: "We haven't yet decided what the residual figure will be, but I think we are looking in the hundreds rather than the thousands."

He said Britain's role was not to "extinguish the insurgency" but to reduce it to a level that Afghan security forces can take on, and to prevent the country being used as a base to train terrorists.

"We're on track to deliver that strategy," he said.

Start Quote

The most important strategic risk facing the country is clearly our economic situation”

End Quote General Sir David Richards Chief of the defence staff

There was no truth in the suggestion that injured soldiers could lose their jobs, he added.

The suggestion was made in a leaked memo by a junior officer - but it was dismissed by the Ministry of Defence.

The document, seen by the Daily Telegraph, suggested 2,500 wounded personnel could go as part of 16,500 Army job losses. It is thought to have been distributed to commanders in Afghanistan.

Referring to the story, Gen Richards said: "I'd like to kill that, there's no such policy."

"No-one will be forced out of the Army - they won't leave until it's right for them."

Speculative figures

He said the figures leaked in the memo were speculative and he did not expect to see a new round of redundancies.

The document reflected early work on how numbers in the Army could be reduced and was sent out to Afghanistan "in a fit of enthusiasm".

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond reiterated the point on Sunday, saying: "Nobody being treated for an injury or a medical condition received on active service will be considered for redundancy - that's our policy, it isn't going to change.

"While they're being treated no-one will be considered for redundancy. Of course, once people's treatment is complete there is then a medical assessment process which will look at the best way to plan their careers."

Some 7,000 army troops will be laid off as part of the first tranche of redundancies, which has already begun.

Gen Richards said that despite cuts to the military he was confident the Army could meet the "core military task" required by the government.

"The most important strategic risk facing the country is clearly our economic situation," he added.

He said military morale was "remarkably high" on the front line - from troops serving in Afghanistan to those flying sorties over Libya in the recent Nato-mandated operation.

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