Cameron and Karzai shrug off talk of rift

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The Independent Online

David Cameron and Afghan president Hamid Karzai were quick to play down criticism of Britain's military performance, published by WikiLeaks, as the Prime Minister made an announced visit to Kabul.

The leaders admitted that comments made by top Afghan officials, including President Karzai, in confidential cables about British troop numbers in the country's Helmand province contained some truths.

But Mr Cameron yesterday shrugged off the revelations which suggested that President Karzai's government thought British troops were "not up to the task" of securing Helmand, a Taliban stronghold in the south of Afganistan.

He said the comments were out of date and referred to a time when insufficient British troops were spread too thinly acrossthe region, a point now acknowledged by Nato and Afghan officials. "If you look back to 2006, 2007, 2008, it's clear now that we didn't have enough troops in Helmand to deliver the security that was necessary, Mr Cameron said. "Of course there are frustrations... but the relationship between the last prime minister, this prime minister and Hamid Karzai is strong."

President Karzai said he had only spoken about there being insufficient troops to cover the area in that period, not tactics or the ability of British troops. "The WikiLeaks documents are having some truths and some not so truths in them. Britain has been a steadfast supporter of Afghanistan. Britain has contributed in its sacrifice of its soldiers... for which the Afghan people are grateful," he said.

Britain has about 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, most in Helmand, where they have been joined by 20,000 more US troops as part of a 30,000-strong "surge".

At least 346 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, almost a third of them this year.

Mr Cameron said during the press conference with President Karzai, that British troops may start withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2011.