Washington: British Defence Minister Liam Fox appealed on Wednesday for patience and resolve in the Afghan war, warning of the risks of a premature withdrawal of NATO troops.
Fox, stressing that Britain stood "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States during a visit to Washington, said that "this is a testing time in Afghanistan”.
"The price being paid is high, the mission complex, and progress not always obvious to the eye," he said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank.
"We must hold our nerve, maintain our resolve, and have the resilience to see the job through."
He said pulling out troops from Afghanistan too soon would allow the country to serve as a sanctuary for Islamist extremists plotting attacks against the West, damage NATO`s credibility and potentially foment a crisis in neighbouring Pakistan.
"Were we to leave prematurely, without degrading the insurgency and increasing the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces, we could see the return of the destructive forces of trans-national terror," he said.
The departure of NATO troops would create a security vacuum that could cause "the destabilisation of Pakistan with potentially unthinkable regional, and possibly nuclear, consequences."
While Fox emphasised the need to stay the course, British Prime Minister David Cameron last week said his country`s military presence in Afghanistan could not drag on indefinitely.
On the sidelines of a Group of Eight summit in Canada, Cameron said he wanted troops home from Afghanistan within five years, conceding the war-torn country would not be "perfect" before that happened.
While he would not outline a "strict timetable" for a withdrawal, Cameron said he wanted to see British troops leave before the next British general elections due by 2015.
With British, US and other NATO-led forces pushing back Taliban insurgents across the southern Helmand province, Fox said he was "cautiously optimistic" about signs of progress so far.
But he added that "the tough times are by no means over”.
His visit coincided with a spike in casualties for the NATO-led force and a rising death toll for British troops. A total of 309 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.
Fox said allied leaders had to prepare their countries for more casualties as coalition forces take the fight to the Taliban, toppled in a US-led invasion after the September 11 attacks.