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Cameron in rallying call to troops

BRITAIN'S troops can come home "with their heads held high" when they leave Afghanistan next year as they will have accomplished their mission, David Cameron has said during a Christmas visit to the military in Helmand province.

BACKING: David Cameron meets British troops during his visit.
BACKING: David Cameron meets British troops during his visit.

The Prime Minister was ­insistent that no UK combat troops will be based in the nation by the end of 2014.

Senior military figures are braced for increased activity as more troops pull out and expect elections being staged next year to be a particular focus for insurgent groups.

During a tour of Camp Bastion, likely to be his last for a seasonal meet-and-greet with troops on the ground, he said the UK had more than played its part in Afghanistan.

Asked by reporters if the troops will come home with the "mission accomplished", the Prime Minister said: "Yes, I think they do. I think they can come home with their heads held high."

He added: "To me, the absolute driving part of the mission is a basic level of security so it doesn't become a haven for terror. That is the mission, that was the mission and I think we will have accomplished that mission and so our troops can be very proud of what they have done."

Around 5200 British troops are now based in Afghanistan, down from 9000 at the start of the year. There have been 446 British deaths.

He said: "The timetable for the withdrawal of British troops is a plan that we will stick to. I said, back in 2010, that after the end of 2014 there would not be British troops in a combat role and we will stick to that.

"We are not going to abandon this country. We are going to go on funding the Afghan National Army and police into the future.

"We will have a development programme into the future and, of course, we are providing what the president of Afghanistan asked me for, which is an officer training academy in Kabul which will help provide the backbone of the Afghan National Army for the future.

"So, we have more than played our part in helping to rebuild this country and making it safe. Our commitment goes on into the future, but our troops have done enough and it's time for them to come home."

The number of UK bases has reduced from 13 to five since the Prime Minister's last visit in June.

Mr Cameron took a helicopter to a forward operating base, Sterga 2, in the Nahr-e Saraj part of Helmand, where he had lunch with a small group of soldiers.

Lance Corporal Bill Hay, 24, said he was impressed and pleased by the visit.

He said: "I'm most surprised by the fact he's actually coming out here. Most of the time, people will only get as far as Bastion.

"So I'm quite chuffed and ­interested that he's pushed further."

Mr Cameron told reporters not to read anything into the fact that he had not visited President Hamid Karzai in Kabul during the trip.

Over the weekend the Afghan premier claimed the United States threatened to abandon it to civil war in a row about the continuing presence of military bases in the nation.

Mr Cameron insisted the ­bilateral security agreement would go ahead.

He said: "I'm confident that this agreement will be signed.

"It's in Afghanistan's interest to have a basic agreement so that American troops and others can help with basic security all the way up to the transition and provide some support in the future.

"That's clearly in Afghanistan's interest, that's in America and Nato's interest, and so I'm confident that after some discussions an agreement will be signed."

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