Cameron, in Afghanistan, eyes UK pullout in 2011

The Pak Banker - - 6international -

KABUL: Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron, on an unan­nounced visit to Afghanistan, said Tues­day he hoped that Bri­tish troops could start with­draw­ing next year thanks to in­roads against the Tal­iban.

Cameron's sec­ond visit to Afghanistan as prime min­is­ter comes days af­ter leaked Amer­i­can diplo­matic ca­bles showed heavy crit­i­cism by US and Afghan of­fi­cials of the per­for­mance of Bri­tish forces.

Speak­ing to re­porters at Camp Bas­tion, the main Bri­tish base in Hel­mand prov­ince, Cameron said he be­lieved the 2011 date was fea­si­ble.

"In terms of the ground be­ing cov­ered, the amount of pub­lic be­ing pro­tected, the train­ing of the Afghan Na­tional Army that is ahead of sched­ule, the Hel­mand po­lice train­ing cen­tre and also the mood of the Paras and Royal Scots that I met-I think that does give you grounds for cau­tious op­ti­mism that this is go­ing in the right di­rec­tion," he said. Cameron left on Sun­day for Afghanistan where around 10,000 Bri­tish troops are sta­tioned-the sec­ond biggest con­tri­bu­tion af­ter the United States to the more than 140,000 NATO-led troops fight­ing a nine-year Tal­iban in­sur­gency.

Down­ing Street gave no date for the end of his visit.

He was ac­com­pa­nied by Chief of the De­fence Staff Gen­eral Sir David Richards, who had pre­vi­ously ruled out the prospects of a Bri­tish with­drawal start­ing next year.

Asked if he now be­lieved 2011 was re­al­is­tic, Richards said: "I do. "It is con­di­tions­based next year but look­ing at the progress we have made-I was only here three months ago-it is quite as­tro­nom­i­cal how quickly things are com­ing to­gether."

The last year has seen a mas­sive build-up of US-led forces, try­ing to drive the Tal­iban from their strongholds in Kan­da­har and Hel­mand prov­inces as part of a new strat­egy de­signed to bring Western troops home as soon as pos­si­ble.

Cameron held talks on Tues­day with Hel­mand gover­nor Gu­lab Man­gal, pro­vin­cial govern­ment spokesman Daud Ah­madi said. Man­gal was cited in the ca­bles re­leased by In­ter­net whistle­blower Wik­iLeaks as one of the of­fi­cials crit­i­cis­ing the Bri­tish.

Ac­cord­ing to US ca­bles in Jan­uary 2009, the gover­nor ac­cused the Bri­tish of do­ing too lit­tle to in­ter­act with the lo­cal com­mu­nity, in­stead be­ing holed up in their main base in San­gin district.

Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai was quoted in Fe­bru­ary 2009 as say­ing that Bri­tish in­com­pe­tence had led to a break­down in law and or­der.

And in April 2007, Gen­eral Dan McNeill, then NATO com­man­der in Afghanistan, was quoted as say­ing he was "par­tic­u­larly dis­mayed" by the Bri­tish who had "made a mess of things in Hel­mand" ow­ing to the "wrong" tac­tics.

US Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton tried to re­as­sure Bri­tain over its role in Afghanistan last week, ex­press­ing "deep re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion for the ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts" of Bri­tish forces in the coun­try. She said she wanted to ex­press "our re­gret if any­thing that was said by any­one sug­gests to the con­trary". The Min­istry of De­fence has de­fended its troops' con­tri­bu­tion, and said the sit­u­a­tion in San­gin-re­spon­si­bil­ity for which was handed over to the United States in Septem­ber 2010 --was much im­proved. -Afp

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