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David Cameron arrives in Afghanistan


June 10, 2010

(TELEGRAPH.CO.UK)  Mr Cameron landed in Kabul on an RAF plane before holding talks with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

On his first major overseas trip since taking office, the Prime Minister is visiting a country where 10,000 British troops.

His visit is expected to form part of the new Government’s review of the mission in Afghanistan, which has lasted almost a decade and cost nearly 300 British lives.

Mr Cameron announced extra spending on armoured vehicles and other specialised equipment to protect British forces in Afghanistan from improvised explosive devices. (IEDs).

Since entering No 10, Mr Cameron has overseen a “stocktake” of Britain’s Afghan strategy, consulting even outspoken critics of the current Nato strategy of supporting Mr Karzai’s regime and training his police and army.

So far, that review has not led to any significant change in Britain’s approach to Afghanistan, although government sources said the Coalition wants to play a more active role in shaping the international Afghan strategy.

The early days of the Coalition have been also marked by some public confusion over Britain’s Afghan aims.

Liam Fox, the defence secretary, has insisted the mission is about preventing regional instability and stopping al-Qaeda using Afghanistan as a base for terrorism, and not about the political development of a “13th century state”.

By contrast, Andrew Mitchell, the development secretary, has said that economic, social and political progress are essential to British success in Afghanistan.

Officials are privately concerned that UK influence in Afghanistan has been waning amid a surge in American troop numbers.

Britain has around 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second largest contributor behind the US. A “surge” in American force levels will take US numbers in Afghanistan to 100,000.

Confirming the growing American dominance of the Afghan mission, a US Marine Corps general recently took over command of international forces in Helmand province, where around 8,000 British troops are based.

Some commanders have suggested that Britain should leave Helmand altogether and transfer its forces to Kandahar, where the next major Nato operation against the Taliban will soon begin.

However, Dr Fox this week confirmed that the Government rejects any move from Helmand, where most British lives have been lost.

Mr Cameron has previously spoken of a “timetable” for beginning the withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan, though officials insist that any withdrawal will be based on the ability of the Afghan security forces to operate unaided.

However, that “conditions-based” timetable may come under growing scrutiny in the months ahead.

Barack Obama, the US President, has indicated that he wants US numbers in Afghanistan to start falling by July 2011.

With Nato allies including Canada also planning to reduce their forces in Afghanistan, Mr Cameron may soon come under increasing pressure to tell UK voters when British forces might leave the country.

The growing British death toll is also likely to push Afghanistan up the political agenda. A total of 294 British personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2001, more than were lost in the wars in the Falklands or Iraq.

The most recent British casualty was announced yesterday as Mr Cameron was flying to Afghanistan.


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