19 Jul 2010

Afghanistan looms large over White House talks

A very long and slow queue at US customs in Washington gives me a moment to mention how Tuesday’s meeting between the PM and the President is going to be an opportunity for David Cameron to flag up one major concern that’s bothering London.

When (there don’t seem to be many “ifs” around on this one even though all announcements on Afghanistan are supposed to be “conditions based”) the US announces that it is drawing down from the surge, expected Summer 2011, the UK is worried that there will be pressure on other partners in the conflict to “run for the doors” … to satisfy internal demands in their countries, even if that doesn’t suit their immediate role.

David Cameron, I hear, wants to make sure that the US announcements, when they come, are nuanced to avoid clamours for instant matching proportional drawdowns by others. That is high on his “issues to raise” list.

Even when the UK does drawn-down and exit there is, I hear, concern in some corners of the MOD that David Cameron is raising expectations of all 10,000 or so UK forces coming home (end of 2014 or beginning 2015).

But experts think a force of anything between 1200 or 4000 could be there for training and reserve for well beyond that. That’s part of the reason for the Defence Secretary Liam Fox emphasising “combat forces” coming home … the other part seems to be a bit of old-fashioned power play reminding anyone watching that he would like to be seen as in charge of the armed forces (even if David Cameron, unusually, conducted the job interview for the new CDS in No. 10 himself).

Anyway, the queue here is going down very slowly … I might just make it the White House tomorrow.

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