British ministers on Afghan visit want troops out

Britain will not set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

Last Updated: May 22, 2010, 23:54 PM IST

Kabul: Britain will not set a deadline for
withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the foreign minister said
today, after arriving in Kabul with a warning that the British
government wanted to pull out as soon as possible.

William Hague, along with Defence Secretary Liam Fox and
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell met
President Hamid Karzai on their first visit to the country
since the new coalition government took power in London
this month.

They had made clear to Karzai that Britain expected to
see his government make progress to match the international
strategy for ending Afghanistan`s long insurgency, he said.

"We are urgently taking stock of the situation, but in
the sense not of deciding whether to support that strategy but
of how to support that strategy in the coming months and
years," he told reporters.

"There isn`t going to be an arbitrary or artificial
timetable. We have to give the strategy that has been set out
the time and support to succeed (and) that does need and
require Britain`s continued military involvement."

Britain has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, the second
biggest commitment behind the US in a force of 130,000
fighting the Taliban insurgency under NATO command.

The number of foreign troops is set to rise to 150,000
by August as part of a US-led counter-insurgency strategy
aimed at speeding the end of the war now well into its ninth
year.

The ministerial visit coincided with the death of a
Royal Marine in southern Afghanistan today, bringing to 286
the number of British soldiers killed in the country since
2001.

It also came as The Times newspaper published an
interview with Fox, in which he said the visit would focus on
speeding up the withdrawal of British forces, and that no new
troops would be deployed.

"We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now
and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,"
he was quoted as saying.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Fox said the answer to
the question of whether Britain needs to be in Afghanistan was
"an unequivocal yes".

"We are here primarily for reasons of our own national
security. We don`t want to see instability in Afghanistan,
which could again become a failed state, which is a safe haven
for terror groups which could launch attacks internationally,"
he said.

"We have the resolve to see through this situation to
ensure we get to a security position where the Afghan security
forces can manage their own internal and external security
"We don`t wish to be here any longer than we have to,
to achieve that situation," he said.

PTI