DC in DC: US visit begins with pledge on Afghan endgame

Cameron strikes sombre note before showmanship takes over. By Nigel Morris and Nicholas Cecil in Washington

Washington

Afghanistan will not be "a perfect democracy" by the time western troops return home, David Cameron admitted as he arrived in Washington for a three-day visit to the United States.

But he stressed the public was keen for an "endgame" to a military operation that has lasted more than a decade and cost hundreds of British lives. After receiving the red-carpet treatment when he arrived at Andrews Air Base last night, the Prime Minister joined President Barack Obama on board Air Force One to watch a university basketball match in Ohio.

The two leaders will hold talks in the White House today over the recent turbulence in Afghanistan, including a detailed discussion on the withdrawal of western troops from the country.

Last night Mr Cameron sought to play down expectations over the eventual prospects for Afghanistan. He said: "I think people want an endgame. They want to know that our troops are going to come home, they have been there a very long time."

The Prime Minister made clear his definition of a successful completion to Britain's mission is less ambitious than the dream of a modern democracy first envisaged when the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001.

He said: "What I define as doing the job is leaving Afghanistan looking after its own security, not being a haven for terror, without the involvement of foreign troops. That should be our goal, so that the British public, our troops and the Afghan Government frankly, know there's an end to this."

Speaking on board his chartered plane as he headed to the US, Mr Cameron added: "I accept it won't be a perfect democracy. There will be huge development problems."

Mr Cameron said he and Mr Obama will use their talks to ensure the UK and US are "absolutely in lock-step" over the withdrawal process, as well as to discuss future support for Afghanistan after the International Security and Assistance Force has left.

Mr Cameron also spoke of his horror over the brutal repression of protesters by Bashar al-Assad in Syria – another subject that will be central to his meeting with the President. "What is happening in Homs is completely appalling," he said.

The two leaders will look at what extra diplomatic and economic pressure can be brought to bear on Damascus to speed up Assad's removal from power, but are unlikely to consider more radical measures such as arming rebel groups or providing air cover of the kind seen in Libya last year. Mr Cameron said: "The shortest way of ending the violence is a transition where Assad goes, rather than a revolution from the bottom, transition at the top rather than revolution at the bottom."

Last night's visit to the basketball game between Mississippi Valley State University and Western Kentucky University is part of a packed programme designed to display the warmth of trans-atlantic relations, including a star-studded state dinner in the White House tonight.

Mr Cameron is the first foreign leader to be invited on board the President's personal plane and last night said he had no doubt of the continuing strength of the special relationship. "I think the special relationship survives. It's increasingly strong, based on common interests and common values."

Mr Cameron said he was "very glad I do get on so well with Barack Obama", adding: "Obama's approach is deeply rational and reasonable, and also very strong.

Special guest: The flight on Air Force One

The "special relationship" between the US and UK reached new heights last night as David Cameron became the first foreign leader to be invited to travel with President Obama on Air Force One.

During the 70-minute flight to Dayton in Ohio, to attend a basketball match, the Prime Minister is sure to have noticed the £200m Boeing VC-25A's retro interiors, reportedly selected by Nancy Reagan when the plane was commissioned in 1985. However, in terms of equipment, AF1 is state-of-the-art, complete with an inflight refuelling system, flares that can divert heat-seeking missiles, and a shield to protect it's electrics from the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear blast.

Air Force One is the code name applied to any plane the President is travelling on, but the aircraft Mr Cameron will fly in is one of two which are mainly used as the President's "flying Oval Office". Within 4,000 sq ft of floor space, the plane boasts 87 phones, 19 televisions, a gym and a television studio. The plane's 26-strong crew can cater for 100 passengers, usually made up of the Presi- dent's staff and White House press.

Enjoli Liston

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
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

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot