Britain mulling early troop drawdown
Six months back, the British military was privately pushing for keeping force levels high for as long as possible, the secretary said in a newspaper interview.
“I think there is a bit of a rethinking going on about how many troops we do actually need; there may be some scope for a little bit more flexibility on the way we draw down,” he said.
Hammond told the Guardian: “I think that the message I am getting clearly from the military is that it might be possible to draw down further troops in 2013.”
The UK is due to pull out 500 soldiers by the end of this year, leaving 9,000 troops to help Afghan forces, but Hammond said a further drawdown was possible in 2013.
During a visit to Camp Bastion in the restive southern province of Helmand, the official said that British military commanders had been surprised by the extent to which they had been able to draw back.
Over the last six months, he explained, the UK had shut down 52 of its military bases and checkpoints in Helmand, where 34 are still operating.
"Talking to senior commanders you get a clear sense that their view of force levels is evolving in light of their experiences," said the secretary, who believed it was not right to ask soldiers to put their lives at risk after the elimination of Al Qaeda.
Calling for greater weight to the high-level political initiative for reconciliation, he acknowledged Afghan society was hard to be completely free of insurgency … “but it is also difficult to imagine in the long run a stable, prosperous and sustainable Afghanistan that has not managed to reintegrate at least a significant part of the insurgency."
He believed the Karzai administration needed to do more and Afghanistan’s neighbours [Pakistan] also needed to maintain pressure on the rebels to come to the negotiating table. He promised expert support for the process.
"I think most of us feel that the political process is not moving as fast as the military process and we would like to see political progress keeping pace with military progress." The Taliban’s inclusion in the reconciliation process was vital, he stressed.
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