UK Politics

Cameron to pull more military personnel from Afghanistan

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Media captionDavid Cameron: "This is the commitment I have made and the commitment I will stick to"

David Cameron has said a further 500 UK military personnel will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2012.

Following the 400 British personnel already returning home this year, this will leave a core of 9,000.

The prime minister told MPs the international mission in Afghanistan was entering a "new phase", with Afghan troops taking more responsibility.

UK defence chiefs have reportedly warned ministers against bringing too many troops home prematurely.

Mr Cameron, who has just returned from a visit to Afghanistan, restated the government's "commitment" that British troops would no longer be involved in a combat role in Afghanistan from 2015.

In a statement to Parliament, he said the withdrawal of 500 more troops would be the "start of a process" that would ultimately result in a clear "end point" at which combat operations would conclude.

Context guiding UK troop withdrawal

The decision, taken on military advice, was "good for Britain and good for Afghanistan", he insisted.

"We are now entering a new phase in which the Afghan forces will do more of the fighting and patrolling, and our forces more training and mentoring," he said.

"Having taken such a huge share of the burden and having performed so magnificently for a decade now, the country needs to know that there is an end point to the level of our current commitment and to our combat operations."

Much progress was being made in Afghanistan, he added, but he urged the Taliban to make a "decisive break" with al-Qaeda and engage in political reconciliation.

Earlier, at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron paid tribute to Highlander Scott McLaren, the British soldier found dead after going missing from a Nato checkpoint in southern Afghanistan

He praised the soldier, from the 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, for his "dedication and bravery". He commended all UK servicemen and women - 375 of whom have died in Afghanistan - for their "magnificent" service.

For Labour, Ed Miliband said he supported the decision to maintain force levels above 9,000 for the next 18 months in order to maintain the "military pressure" on the Taliban - at the same time as building up Afghan capability and improving governance.

"This will give our forces the best chance of consolidating the situation before the process of transition to Afghan control accelerates in 2012 and 2013 when our forces can start to come home in greater numbers," he said.

US military personnel numbers in Afghanistan will be reduced by 10,000 this year and a further 23,000 by the end of September 2012, President Barack Obama announced last month.

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