British to reduce forces in Afghanistan to half their current size by end of 2013

 

British forces in Afghanistan will be reduced to just over half their current size by the end of next year as the exit strategy from the long and costly war gets underway.

The total UK contingent will be reduced from its current strength of 9,500 to around 5,000 after the end of the next summer’s fighting season, it is expected, with further and escalating decreases taking place with each brigade sent to Helmand.

David Cameron will make the announcement today. Final details, however, are still being worked out with partners in Nato, especially the Americans.

The scale of British disengagement will depend to a large extent on what the US administration decides: the Americans, in turn, are said to be accelerating their pace of withdrawal after commanders on the ground claimed that the Afghan army and police are making faster progress than expected.

Barack Obama has indicated that he will make up his mind about American troop numbers by the end of the year. Diplomatic sources said that although the President is currently engaged in dealing with the Connecticut school massacre, he will have decided by the time he meets the Afghan president Hamid Karzai in Washington in early January.

The Americans currently have 60,000 troops in the country; 23,000 were withdrawn this year, following 11,000 in the previous 12 months. The US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, whose recommendation will have a key bearing on President Obama’s thinking, is said to have been persuaded towards a sizeable pull-out after consulting senior officer.

One commander, Major General Robert Abrams, insisted that Afghan forces had made “astounding” gains in districts around Kandahar while another, Maj Gen Larry Nicholson, the deputy chief of staff of Isaf (the International Security Assistance Force to Afghanistan), maintained that the Taliban had failed to regain lost ground.

Things had improves so much, he declared, that US Marines based alongside the British in Helmand were complaining of boredom because there was so little fighting to be done nowadays.

The Afghan view is somewhat different, with persistent reports of flight of capital due to apprehension about the insurgents taking over swathes of the country when Western forces end combat operations in 2014.

Afghan commanders have repeatedly stated that the international forces may be leaving too soon and the public announcement of their date of departure sends the wrong signal to the both the enemy and allies.

Nevertheless the British Prime Minister, who inherited a war he does not like, will seize on the American lead to reduce the UK presence in the conflict at a faster rate, say Whitehall sources.

Senior members of the Cabinet, including George Osborne, have been pressing for a drastic cut in the size of the force and, even, an immediate retreat.

So far 438 members of British forces have been killed in Afghanistan. The Chancellor and other ministers opposed to the war point out that it is costing £2.5 billion a year, coming to £20bn by 2014.

Yet, while signalling an accelerated departure from Afghanistan, the Prime Minister has become the foremost “hawk” on Syria at meetings of the National Security Council, stressing that the UK must play a more active role in helping the rebels against the Assad regime. The Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, recently hosted a meeting of senior military officers in the region, as well as the US and France, to draw up plans for a possible intervention.

The US will also expect Britain to pay its share of aid to the Afghan government after the withdrawal in two years’ time, estimated to be around $10bn (£6.2bn) a year. Elements of Western military presence, including air power and special forces, are also due to remain in the country after the ground combat mission had ended.

Conflict timeline: Decade of war

October 2001 Britain and America launch air strikes on Afghanistan

December 2001 Hamid Karzai sworn in as head of interim government.

August 2003 Nato takes over responsibility for security in Kabul.

January 2006 Nato announces Britain will lead international force in Helmand with a 3,300-strong force.

June 2008 British troops increase to 8,030.

October 2009 Gordon Brown increases troop numbers to 9,500.

December 2009 US troop numbers increase to 100,000.

May 2012 Nato summit endorses plans to withdraw foreign combat troops within two years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all