Britain’s defence secretary said thousands of troops will leave Afghanistan next year, a major reduction in UK forces.
The government has said 500 of the 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn this year, and all will be brought home by the end of 2014, when security will be handed over to Afghan forces.
But it has not announced exactly how many will come home in 2013.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday said he planned “a significant reduction in force numbers by the end of next year”. He added: “We are very clear that we are going to end our combat mission at the end of 2014.”
Commenting on reports that Chancellor George Osborne had queried this timetable, Mr Hammond said: “The Chancellor’s style is, quite properly, to challenge received wisdom, everybody is talking about the plan.
“I think he was asking us to justify our current plan, by putting it to us that there is an alternative, we could just come out now and we take that challenge.”
He said that “thousands, not hundreds” of troops would be withdrawn late in 2013, “but I would not expect it to be the majority of our forces”.
Last month, Mr Hammond admitted there was “a bit of rethinking” about numbers after military commanders reported that Afghan forces were taking on the “lion’s share” of the combat role.
Prime Minister David Cameron has repeatedly said he is keen to avoid a “cliff-edge” on troop withdrawal in 2014, the date when all UK combat troops are due to be out, but insisted the decision should be based on Afghan progress.