16 Dec 2013

Mission accomplished: PM’s message to troops in Afghanistan

After 12 years of British involvement in Afghanistan, David Cameron announces he is preparing to pull troops out of the country next year, despite fears of an insurgency.

The prime minister joined soldiers in Helmand province for Christmas lunch and said that no UK combat troops will be based in Afghanistan by the end of next year, even if there is a surge of violence from the Taliban.

I think we will have accomplished that mission and so our troops can be very proud of what they have done. David Cameron

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, in Helmand, likely to be his last for a seasonal meet-and-greet with troops on the ground, David Cameron said Britain had more than played its part in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister David Cameron (R)

‘Heads held high’

Asked by reporters if the troops come home with “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 5,200 British troops are now based in Afghanistan, down from 9,000 at the start of the year. There have been 446 British deaths.

The timetable for the withdrawal of British troops is a plan that we will stick to,” Mr Cameron said.

“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.

Read more: one nil to the Taliban: the flag and the farce

“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.

Michael Owen (R)
A football match between England and Afghanistan at Wembley stadium would be a "fantastic" way to mark the end of Britain's Afghan combat role, former England international Michael Owen said on a surprise visit to Camp Bastion. 

The former England striker, who was accompanying David Cameron, said the Afghan team, which recently won the South Asia Cup, was "pretty good" and backed the idea of the "fully-fledged" match between the two nations.