UK `could begin Afghan withdrawal early 2012`

Britain has the second largest commitment to the NATO-led mission in Afghan.

London: Britain could begin pulling its troops out of Afghanistan in just over a year, the head of armed forces told a newspaper on Monday.

General David Richards said there was "certainly scope for reduction" of the British presence in the southern province of Helmand by 2012 while on a visit to the war-torn country.

"I don`t want to say it will definitely happen because the enemy has a vote," Richards said. "We should not think the Taliban are thick and unthinking. There may be scope for reductions next year."

"Come 2012 there will be scope for slow reductions, but with our eyes on the fact the Taliban will still be around, we will do it cautiously," he added.

Britain has the second largest commitment to the NATO-led mission, with some 10,000 soldiers in Helmand province in the violent south of the country. It has lost 345 troops since the mission began in 2001.

In comments earlier this month, Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain would withdraw all of its combat troops from Afghanistan before the end of 2015.

US president Barack Obama initially wanted to reduce forces by July next year, but that looks set to be delayed to allow the 30,000 extra troops which he deployed to have their effect.

Bureau Report