UK Politics

David Cameron 'confident' about 2014 Afghan troop withdrawal promise

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Media captionDavid Cameron: "It really matters that we have a defence budget that makes sense"

David Cameron has said he is "confident" of meeting his promise to bring the majority of UK troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Speaking on a visit to the country, the prime minister said reductions in troops before then would be done in an "ordered and sensible" fashion.

He is due to make an announcement before the end of the year about how many troops will come home in 2013.

Since 2001, 422 British personnel have died in Afghanistan.

Mr Cameron has been visiting Helmand province in the south of the country, where the bulk of the UK's 9,500 troops are stationed.

He toured Camp Bastion, the UK's largest base in Afghanistan, as well as visiting frontline troops from the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment at the Shawqat base in Nad-e-Ali.

The UK has said it will reduce troop numbers by 500 this year and seek a further drawdown next year ahead of the full transfer of security responsibility to local forces in 2014.

'No cliff edge'

"What I will commit to is that we will do this in a sensible, ordered, practical way," the prime minister said. "As Afghan troops take a bigger role we will be able to reduce troop numbers further next year.

"I don't want to see some cliff edge. I'm confident we are going to have a staged reduction and deliver a safe and secure situation.

Image caption Mr Cameron has said British troops will be reduced in an "orderly" fashion by 2014

"I'm confident we can bring the British troops home as I promised by the end of 2014.

Of the three areas under British control in Helmand, Mr Cameron said two were in transition to Afghan control and the third was about to begin the handover process.

The BBC's political correspondent Carole Walker, who is travelling with the prime minister, said a senior military source had told her he would like the British to retain a strong presence for as long as possible.

Troop support

Asked about troop morale in the light of planned 20% cuts to Army numbers by 2020, Mr Cameron said getting a grip of the defence budget involved "difficult decisions".

However, he said this process was necessary to allow the UK to invest in up-to-date equipment such as the Foxhound armoured patrol vehicles now in use in Afghanistan.

"I am absolutely full of support for our armed services and what they do and yes, we do ask them to do a lot on our behalf," he said. "But it really matters that we have a defence budget that makes sense so that we can give our troops the support that they need."

During the visit, Mr Cameron was given an update on the security situation from commanders from the Nato-led ISAF force as well as British Ambassador Sir Richard Stagg. He was told there had been a slight upsurge in violence after the fighting season started earlier than usual.

This is Mr Cameron's first visit to Camp Bastion in nearly a year after a planned trip in December was aborted due to a dust storm, forcing the PM to be diverted to the Nato base in Kandahar.