MOST of the 600 interpreters British forces have used in Afghanistan should, where possible, stay in the country to help rebuild it, David Cameron has insisted.

Only "in extremis", where individuals were under direct threat of reprisals if they remained, should they be allowed to come to the UK, the Prime Minister said yesterday.

He made clear he had told officials to draw up a "really generous" financial package to help persuade the interpreters to stay in their own country.

However, Mr Cameron's stance is not likely to find favour with his deputy Nick Clegg who made clear he had "a lot of sympathy" with calls for the interpreters to be allowed to settle in the UK, saying it would be morally indefensible for Britain to "turn our backs".

The PM said: "I don't think we should turn our backs. There are two things we should do.

"One is to make sure that in extremis, of course, people can apply to come and live in the UK and we should have a fair system for doing that.

"But I do think that when we think of all that we have spent and all the cost in money and human lives we have put into Afghanistan, we should do everything we can to encourage talented Afghans to stay in their country and contribute to it."

Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, who was once considered for the role of international envoy in Afghanistan, said the interpreters should be given the choice to stay or leave.

Agreeing with Mr Cameron that Britain had paid a heavy price in Afghanistan, the peer said: "We should not add to that price an act of dishonour on our leaving."

He added: "The truth is these interpreters put their lives at the service of our nation alongside our troops and we should honour that commitment."

It is thought at least 20 interpreters serving with UK forces have been killed since 2001 with many more wounded.