British Prime Minister David Cameron has arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to meet with UK and NATO troops, according to reports.
The Prime Minister’s plan to fly to Camp Bastion, the principal British base of operations, was scuttled by a dust storm, forcing him to journey to a NATO base in Kandahar. There he met with British tornado pilots as well as U.S. general James Huggins, the chief of the ISAF Regional Command South.
According to the UK Ministry of Defense, about 9.500 British soldiers are currently serving in Afghanistan.
Cameron told reporters in Kandahar that Britain’s combat role in the country would cease by the end of 2014.
The right end point is 2014. Here we are in Kandahar where the number of insurgent attacks is radically down. There has been a radical decrease,” he said.
I am confident we will be in the right place by 2014. By the end of 2014 they will have been in Afghanistan for 13 years. It's now for the Afghanistan police and the army and the government to take over. That's what the Afghan's want and everybody back at home. We want to get to a point where Afghanistan is stable enough so it doesn't become a base for terrorists.
By the end of this year, about 500 of those UK personnel will return home and more would be withdrawn in 2013, Cameron indicated. However, he refused to spell out a specific timetable for the pullback.
I don't want to see some massive cliff-edge in 2014 - I don't think that's practical, he told reporters.
But I don't think we need to make hard and fast decisions at this stage.
He also said he will chair a committee in London early next year to explore ways to improve the welfare of UK troops.
There's more that needs to be done, not just by the government but by the whole country, to recognize the service and sacrifice of our armed forces, but I think we've made some good progress this year, Cameron said.
While the Prime Minister tries to improve the morale of British troops thousands of miles from home, the UK military is facing the realities of the coalition government’s budget cuts in the form of pay freezes and layoffs, like other public sector workers.
However, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that senior British defense officials have criticized Cameron for seeking to reduce the salaries of servicemen.
Cameron defended himself from such charges.
I think we are doing the right thing,” he told reporters. “We have doubled the operational allowance so people serving in Afghanistan get that extra £5,000. We're also exempted them from pension increases that other public servants have been asked to make.”
Cameron added: We're making sure that they get the pupil premium and I'm establishing a cabinet committee to make sure every part of government policy supports armed forces and their families.