The government announces that nearly 4,000 British troops will begin the withdrawal from Afghanistan from next April, paving the way for a complete pull-out in 2014.

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Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons that the strength of the UK forces in Afghanistan will be reduced from 9,000 to 5,200 by the end of 2013.

The partial withdrawal paves the way for the final removal of the bulk of British personnel, as planned, by the end of 2014.

"Home in two steps" - David Cameron

Mr Cameron told MPs "we'll be able to see troops come home in two relatively even steps", in 2013 and 2014.

He said this was due to "the success of our forces and the Afghan national security forces, and the fact that moving from mentoring at a battalion level to mentoring at a brigade level in 2013".

In a subsequent statement, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said fewer replacements would be sent over in the spring when the six-monthly rotation of British forces goes ahead as scheduled.

Further reduction

There will be a further reduction in numbers after the summer fighting season, in September or October.

Mr Hammond said the reduction of troops would take place with "every turn of the handle" of six-month tours.

He said: "I expect that there will some drawdown in April next year of numbers. Then there will be a period during the fighting season when numbers remain constant and then a further step of drawdown in September/October towards the end of next year.

"The message is clear... everybody talks of an increasing confidence, of an increasing competence and an increasing willingness to engage by the Afghan forces - a step change in the level of what they are able to do."

Helicopter support

But Mr Hammond said the Afghan forces still needed air cover during operations, while helicopter support to evacuate casualties was also required.

Afghan national security forces are now leading in more than four out of five conventional operations, while they held 90 per cent of their own training sessions.

Meanwhile, the UK have able to close or hand over to the Afghans nearly 50 permanent bases in the country.

But he warned so-called green-on-blue attacks by rogue members of the Afghan security forces remained a threat.

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