British Prime Minister David Cameron visited troops in southern Helmand province on Monday 16th December 2013 and stressed that Britain would stick to its timetable to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
He noted the importance of a deal to ensure the framework for training missions and counterterrorism support, to ensure security through the transition and after 2014, when the NATO mandate expires and all foreign forces must depart.
“That’s clearly in Afghanistan’s interest, that’s in America and NATO’s interest, too, and so I’m confident that after some discussions an agreement will be signed,” he told reporters at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province.
He expressed confidence the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Kabul-Washington will be signed to allow a continuing allied training mission in Afghanistan after 2014.
Cameron was in Afghanistan for a pre-Christmas visit with U.K. soldiers, who form the second-largest NATO contingent fighting to stop the Taliban insurgency, ahead of a planned withdrawal of all British combat troops by the end of next year.
He said it would be better if the deal is signed “sooner rather than later” because NATO countries have to plan.
A post-2014 mission could involve around 8,000 American and 6,000 allied troops. The U.K. has committed to leaving a small number of advisers to Afghan’s Ministry of Defense and trainers at the national officer’s academy in Kabul — and those plans could be in jeopardy if a deal is not signed.
“Clearly Britain wants to continue playing its role,” Cameron told reporters.
He noted that “the big drawdown” is now taking place and praised British troops for helping to train the Afghan National Army.
He later pointed to those gains as a reason that U.K. combat troops can go home “with heads held high” next year.
The British had about 9,500 military troops in Afghanistan, by the end of this month Britain is expected to have about 5,200 troops on the ground. Cameron repeatedly said he has no plans to break his promise of bringing all combat troops home by the end of 2014 and that this would be his last pre-Christmas visit.