Britain has accomplished its mission in Afghanistan and it is time for the troops to come home, David Cameron said during a Christmas visit to the military in Helmand province.
The Prime Minister was insistent that no UK combat troops will be based in the nation by the end of next year, even if there is a rise in insurgency.
Senior military figures are braced for increased activity as more troops pull out and expect elections being staged next year to be a particular focus for insurgent groups.
During a tour of Camp Bastion, Mr Cameron said Britain had more than played its part in Afghanistan. Asked by reporters if the troops come home with “mission accomplished”, he said: “Yes, I think they do. I think they can come home with their heads held high.”
The phrase “mission accomplished” became synonymous with the Iraq war after then United States president George Bush made a speech in front of a banner emblazened with the term in 2003. Violence continued in Iraq and the White House was forced it was a mistake.
Around 5,200 British troops are now based in Afghanistan, down from 9,000 at the start of the year. There have been 446 British deaths.
Mr Cameron said yesterday: “To me, the absolute driving part of the mission is a basic level of security so it doesn’t become a haven for terror. That is the mission, that was the mission and I think we will have accomplished that mission and so our troops can be very proud of what they have done.”
“The timetable for the withdrawal of British troops is a plan that we will stick to,” he said.
“I said, back in 2010, that after the end of 2014 there would not be British troops in a combat role and we will stick to that.
“We are not going to abandon this country. We are going to go on funding the Afghan National Army and police into the future.
“We will have a development programme into the future and, of course, we are providing what the president of Afghanistan asked me for, which is an officer training academy in Kabul which will help provide the backbone of the Afghan National Army for the future.
“So, we have more than played our part in helping to rebuild this country and making it safe. Our commitment goes on into the future but our troops have done enough and it’s time for them to come home.”
Mr Cameron took a helicopter to a forward operating base, Sterga 2, in the Nahr-e Saraj part of Helmand, where he had lunch with a small group of
soldiers. Lance Corporal Bill Hay, 24, said he was impressed and pleased by the visit. “I’m most surprised by the fact he’s actually coming out here,” he said. “Most of the time, people will only get as far as Bastion. So I’m quite chuffed and interested that he’s pushed further.”
Mr Cameron told reporters not to read anything into the fact that he had not visited president Hamid Karzai in Kabul during the trip. Over the weekend the Afghan premier claimed the United States threatened to abandon it to civil war in a row about the continuing presence of military bases in the nation.
Mr Cameron insisted the bilateral security agreement would go ahead. “Well, I’m confident that this agreement will be signed. It’s in Afghanistan’s interest to have a basic agreement so that American troops and others can help with basic security, all the way up to the transition and provide some support in the future. That’s clearly in Afghanistan’s interest, that’s in America and Nato’s interest, and so I’m confident that after some discussions an agreement will be signed.”
Brits vs Afghans could mark withdrawal …on football pitch
A football match between England and Afghanistan at Wembley stadium would be a ‘fantastic’ way to mark the end of Britain’s Afghan combat role, soccer hero Michael Owen said on a surprise visit to Camp Bastion.
The former England striker flew into Afghanistan with the Prime Minister to launch a UK-Afghan football partnership to boost the game by developing the league system. Owen said the Afghan national team was ‘pretty good’. Asked if a match would be a nice way to mark the troop drawdown, he said: ‘Wouldn’t it just? Yes, it would be fantastic.’
The notion won support from David Cameron. ‘I’m sure that there will be many very dignified national events that should take place,’ he said.
‘The idea of one part of it being a football match, I think, is a very nice idea.’