Cameron, in Afghanistan, eyes British pullout in 2011


KABUL: British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday that next year must show “irreversible” progress in the anti-Taliban war, expressing hope that British troops could start leaving Afghanistan in 2011.
Making his second visit to the war-torn country as prime minister, Cameron met President Hamid Karzai days after leaked American cables showed heavy criticism by US and Afghan officials of the performance of British forces. Cameron told a joint press conference with Karzai that he was “cautiously optimistic” over progress being made on the battlefield and about NATO plans to bring some troops home next year and the rest by the end of 2014.
“2010 was without a doubt a year in which we made real progress. 2011 must be the year in which that progress becomes irreversible,” he said.
“President Karzai gives me confidence that our plans for transition are achievable,” he said.
“We are going to make it happen.”
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates made a parallel visit to American troops in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, telling them that their sacrifices were paying off as the White House prepares an imminent strategic review of the war.
Karzai downplayed the memos divulged by the WikiLeaks website, doubting whether some were authentic and said: “Britain has been a steadfast supporter of Afghanistan and the Afghan people.”
The president, whose relations with the West have become increasingly strained, had been quoted in one US cable in 2009 as saying that British incompetence had led to a breakdown in law and order in Helmand province.
Cameron left on Sunday for Afghanistan where around 10,000 British troops are stationed — the second biggest contribution after the United States to the more than 140,000 NATO-led troops fighting a nine-year Taliban insurgency.
Following the press conference with Karzai, Cameron met NATO commanders before flying out of the country, the British embassy in Kabul said, but they did not reveal his destination for security reasons.
Cameron was accompanied by Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Richards, who had previously ruled out the prospects of a British withdrawal starting next year but now said it appeared a realistic target.