David Cameron yesterday took a thinly veiled swipe at the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, warning against "cliff edge" early withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister insisted troops should leave only when Afghan forces are able to take control, putting him at odds with French plans to leave by the end of next year, ahead of Nato's agreed date of 2014.
Speaking after talks at Chequers with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, Mr Cameron warned: "I don't want to see some sort of cliff edge in 2014 when all the remaining troops come out at once, but, clearly, between now and 2014, the rate at which we can reduce our troops will depend on the transition to Afghan control in the different parts of Afghanistan, and that should be the same for all of the members of Nato, who are all contributing and helping to a strong, stable and peaceful Afghanistan."
He added that between now and 2014 there will be "opportunities for different countries to reduce their troop numbers". Mr Cameron also paid tribute to the latest British casualty in Afghanistan, a soldier from 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, now named as Lance Corporal Gajbahadur Gurung. His death brings the number of British forces personnel or Ministry of Defence civilians to have died while serving in Afghanistan to 397.
Mr Cameron and President Karzai, meanwhile, have signed a pledge setting out the next stage in relations between Britain and Afghanistan. The "enduring strategic partnership" renews a 2005 agreement and covers future aid, trade and investment.