British troops may leave Afghanistan early

The British government has confirmed that next week it would consider withdrawing thousands of troops from its base in Afghanistan, up to a year earlier than originally planned.

London: The British government has confirmed that next week it would consider withdrawing thousands of troops from its base in Afghanistan, up to a year earlier than originally planned.

Local media reported that troop numbers in Afghanistan would be on the agenda for Britain`s National Security Council (NSC) Tuesday.

"Next week`s National Security Council meeting will discuss Afghanistan and will look at the approach up to and beyond 2014," Ministry of Defense (MOD) said in a statement.

The early withdrawal of up to 4,500 troops by the end of 2013 from the 10,000-strong army fighting in Afghanistan would be one of the options considered at the NSC, reported Xinhua.

A total of 9,000 British troops are presently deployed in the southern Afghanistan province of Helmand, where they are heavily engaged in fighting.

Casualty figures for Britain are second only to the US casualties among foreign powers.
Defense Secretary Philip Hammond made it clear earlier this week in his first public speech and at a defense committee meeting that he would be sticking to the deadline of the end of 2014, and that there would only be "several hundreds of troops" remaining in Afghanistan, in training and mentoring roles.

However, the revelation that Britain is considering withdrawing thousands of troops in 2013 is a new departure in policy and could set it in conflict with the US, the principal force in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and with Britain`s other NATO partners who also have troops deployed there.

An early departure in significant numbers by Britain could spark similar moves from other nations.

Britain`s government has carried out its austerity programme to tackle the near record public spending deficit of 127 billion pounds (about $200 billion).

This has entailed large cuts in government departmental spending, with some departments losing more than 20 percent of their budget over four years. Defense is slated for an 8 percent reduction.

PTI

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