September 14, 2012 - 10:55 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - British troops could pull out of Afghanistan sooner than expected, the Defense Secretary has indicated, The Daily Telegraph reports.
The speed at which the Armed Forces are leaving the country could increase next year as Afghan authorities take control of the fight against the Taliban.
Philip Hammond said military commanders had been surprised at the Afghans’ readiness to “take the lion’s share of the combat role” from British forces. He insisted the UK would not be “spooked” by a growing number of “green on blue” attacks in which Afghan soldiers attack Nato colleagues, including five such deaths in recent months.
Shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis told MPs that there had been 34 incidents involving coalition forces, causing 45 deaths.
Mr Hammond also said Britain must accept that peace would only be achieved through “Northern Ireland-style” talks with the moderate element of the insurgency.
For the first time, he revealed the Army was taking a new approach to the timescale of the withdrawal as he visited British troops in Camp Bastion, Helmand.
"I think there is a bit of a rethinking going on about how many troops we do actually need,” he said, speaking in an interview with The Guardian. “There may be some scope for a little bit more flexibility on the way we draw down, and that is something commanders on the ground are looking at very actively."
Mr Hammond did not indicate a revised timetable but said Britain’s departure from Afghanistan could be quickened rather than waiting until 2014. He suggested the change in thinking had occurred in the last six months.
"I think that the message I am getting clearly from the military is that it might be possible to draw down further troops in 2013," he said.
Under current plans, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will take over from the middle of next year with all International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf) withdrawing by 2014.