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Cameron Says Afghan Withdrawal May Go ‘a Little Faster’

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister David Cameron said the U.K. may be able to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan “a little faster” than in plans he announced two days ago.

The prime minister’s told the House of Commons on Dec. 19 that Britain will bring home 3,800 troops from Afghanistan next year, almost half the current strength serving in Helmand province, as it hands over security to local forces. Numbers will fall to about 5,200 after the end of next year before combat operations in the country finish by the end of 2014.

“So far things have surprised on the upside in terms of the capability of the Afghan national forces, so it may well be that we may be able to move a little faster, but let’s see,” Cameron told reporters in Afghanistan today during a pre-Christmas visit to British forces. “Of course there’s always flexibility with any plan.”

Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said Dec. 19 he expects the number of British troops in Afghanistan to be reduced in April 2013 and again during September and October. Fewer units will be deployed to the country to replace those returning home, he said.

Afghan forces are getting the “capability” to control their own nation, even though the country remains “deeply challenged,” Cameron told reporters yesterday on a visit to Camp Bastion, the main U.K. military base in Helmand in southern Afghanistan. “This is withdrawal, this is drawdown based on success, not on failure.”

The British government is “confident it can be done while making sure Afghanistan does not return to become a haven of terrorism, which is of course why we came here in the first place,” Cameron said yesterday. Afghanistan is a “far better place than it was when we came here in 2001.”

All North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led operations in the country are due to finish by the end of 2014. The U.K. remains committed to supporting Afghanistan beyond next year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Svenja O’Donnell in Afghanistan at sodonnell@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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