As Afghanistan bomb blast troops' bodies flown home, US warns of greater risks ahread

Pulling troops out early 'could play into the hands of the Taliban'

The bodies of six soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, the highest number of British fatalities from one attack, were brought home today; a sombre reminder of the violence and danger in the longest foreign conflict this country has been involved in since the Second World War.

The corteges carrying the remains of Sergeant Nigel Coupe, of the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, Corporal Jake Hartley, Private Anthony Frampton, Private Christopher Kershaw, Private Daniel Wade and Private Daniel Wilford, all of the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, were flown to RAF Brize Norton for a private service and then taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan comrades of the fallen soldiers continued on a mission reaching its final stages with governments in the UK and the US facing growing public pressure to bring the troops back early.

However an American military report, seen by The Independent, warns of the risks which will be posed by too hasty withdrawal of troops and also points out the security pitfalls  of the projected lowering of the Afghan forces’ strength for cost reasons.

The discussion paper is in preparation for an international summit in Chicago in May, which will shape the West’s relationship with Afghanistan after the end of the combat mission in 2014. The document, drawn up by a Pentagon team, looks at, among other issues,  plans to cut the size of the Afghan forces by almost 40 per cent at the very time they are supposed to be taking over security responsibility from Nato. It also examines the options for drawdown being considered by the White House , the most drastic of which would see a major reduction by next February. The study also points out that the failure to establish establish governance in areas contested with the Taliban, with a return of corruption, would aid the insurgency.

There is widespread acceptance in London and Washington that Britain will follow the American lead in the timing and scale, proportionately, of the pull out. The Ministry of Defence, according to Whitehall sources, were kept unaware of what David Cameron would say about Afghanistan during recent visit to the States. “It was pretty clear that he did not want to commit himself until he had spoken to Obama” said one official.

While the two leaders deliberate on the departure path, Western officials are getting increasingly bemused and bewildered by the latest “wild pronouncements” coming from a third, Hamid Karzai, in Kabul. He described the burning of Korans by US officials, a mistake, as satanic acts that will never be forgiven by apologies”. And, after the murders of 16 civilians by an American soldier reportedly after a breakdown, the Afghan president described the Taliban and Nato as “ Two demons. Let’s pray for God to rescue us from these two demons”.

Mr Karzai has also insisted that Nato hand over control of security to Afghan forces by next year. Under the current American plans these forces, however, would shrink drastically from 352,000 to 220,000 in the next 12 months. The primary reason is one of costs: cutting manpower would lower the annual defence budget, which the international community will have to provide, from $ 6.2 billion to $ 4.1 billion.

The US report points out that such a reduction is predicated on the insurgency trailing off. It highlights the concerns of the Afghan defence minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, who stressed “Nobody at this moment, based on any type of analysis, can predict what will be the security situation in 2014. Going lower on troop numbers has to be based on realities on the ground. Otherwise it will be a disaster, a catastrophe, putting at risk all that we have accomplished together with so much sacrifice in blood and treasure.”

An US official familiar with the report said “Of course there will be significant savings by cutting numbers. But look at others costs. Why should Afghan soldiers and police risk their lives, essential if transition is to take place, if they know they will lose their jobs a little down the line? Also, do we really want 130,000 disaffected men trained to use arms made unemployed out on the streets, in an economy highly unlikely to find them other jobs? We need to be very careful what message we send from Chicago.”

The US will start withdrawing bulk of its remaining 90,000 troops with 22,000 departing this Autumn. No decision, says the administration, has been made on when the rest will leave. Vice-President Joe Biden, long an advocate of reduced military footprint on the ground, is said to want a rapid rate of return leaving specialist forces to carry out  counter-terrorist operations.

Vice-President Biden took the same stance, and lost, while arguing against the request of General David Petraeus, then head of Nato forces in Afghanistan, for thousands of troops for a ‘surge’.

But the current political and economic climate is  favouring Mr Biden. Amrican and British commanders would like to keep as many troops on the ground as possible until the 2014 handover. General John  Allen, the current head of international troops,  insisted “ The campaign is sound, it is solid. It does not contemplate any form of accelerated drawdown”.  But Chicago may show that remains wishful thinking.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit