500 British troops to return from Afghanistan

A further 500 British troops are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan next year, David Cameron confirmed today.

The Prime Minister told the House of Commons that the British force in Afghanistan would be reduced to 9,000 by the end of the year.

He said the UK remained committed to the full handover of responsibility for security throughout the country to the Afghan authorities by the end of 2014.

"This decision is not only right for Britain, it is right for Afghanistan too," he said.

"It has given the Afghans a clear deadline against which to plan and has injected a sense of urgency into their efforts."

The latest troop reductions come on top of the earlier announcement of a drawdown of 426 British troops by the end of next February.

US president Barack Obama has already said he is bring home 10,000 American troops this year with the withdrawal of the 33,000-strong US troop "surge" to be completed by the end of the summer next year.

Mr Cameron, who returned last night from a two-day visit to the country, said operations were now entering a "new phase" with the Afghan forces taking on more of the fighting.

The Prime Minister, who was briefed by senior British and US commanders, said significant progress was being made in the fight against the Taliban and in building up Afghan government capabilities.

"While it is too early to tell for certain, initial evidence suggests that we have halted the momentum of the Taliban insurgency in its heartland in Helmand province," he said.

He said the killing of al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden by US special forces had presented the Taliban with "a moment of real choice" to abandon its struggle and join the political process.

"We should take this opportunity to send a clear message to the Taliban - now is the time to break decisively from al Qaida and to participate in peaceful political process," he said.

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