Nearly half of UK forces to leave Afghanistan in 2013

Wed Dec 19, 2012 10:14am EST
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By Peter Griffiths and Matt Falloon

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will withdraw nearly half its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, the government said on Wednesday, as part of a security handover to Afghan forces more than a decade after the U.S.-led invasion.

Nearly all of Britain's 9,000 soldiers are due to pull out when the NATO mission finishes in late 2014, ending a long, costly and unpopular war that has cost the lives of 438 UK troops.

Like the United States, Britain will leave behind an undisclosed number of soldiers after 2014 to help local forces face threats from the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies.

"Because of the success of our forces and the Afghan National Security Forces ... we'll be able to see troops come home in two relatively even steps - 2013 and 2014," Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament. He had discussed the plan with U.S. President Barack Obama by phone on Tuesday.

Britain, which has the second biggest foreign force in Afghanistan after the United States, says it has helped to stabilize the country and prevent militants from finding a safe haven.

But the war's critics say Afghanistan is far from stable after years of violence and they question why Britain has spent so much money on the war at a time of tight public finances.

Britain's defense budget, like that of other NATO members, is under pressure, forcing the Ministry of Defence to spend less on troop numbers and equipment.

'UNWINNABLE WAR'   Continued...