Page last updated at 09:17 GMT, Saturday, 5 December 2009

David Cameron: Cut in UK Afghan troop levels 'unlikely'

David Cameron speaking in Afghanistan: ''A glimpse of what might be possible''

Tory leader David Cameron has warned a cut in UK troop levels in Afghanistan would be "pretty unlikely" next year.

Mr Cameron told the BBC he backed government strategy of handing over areas to Afghan control but "based on success" not "artificial timelines".

The troop surge led by US President Barack Obama was Nato's "last best chance for success", Mr Cameron said.

If elected, his party would double the £2,400 payment to personnel returning from a six-month tour, he announced.

He also vowed to appoint a national security adviser, set up a war cabinet, and make Ministry of Defence service personnel wear uniforms instead of suits.

Withdrawal is a bad option that would let the Taliban take over [and lead to] the danger of terrorist training camps coming back
David Cameron

Mr Cameron is due to meet President Karzai in Kabul on the second day of his visit to Afghanistan. He will also see the Afghan army train and meet military leaders.

He told BBC political editor Nick Robinson that he backed Prime Minister Gordon Brown's view that the 30,000 extra US troops being sent to Afghanistan would allow control of certain districts to be handed over to Afghans.

Mr Brown has said an extra 500 British troops will be sent to the country in January, taking the total number to more than 10,000, and stressed they would not be there indefinitely.

However, Mr Cameron said: "I don't want us to raise false hopes. It's pretty unlikely you're going to see a reduction in British troop numbers next year.

"As soon as you can hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans in a district you should do so... but do it based on success. Don't keep talking about artificial timelines."

'Spread too thinly'

Mr Brown - who last visited Afghanistan in August - has said Britain's mission in Afghanistan is vital to prevent terrorist attacks in the UK.

The man who hopes to be leading Britain's war efforts leaves here having seen reminded that foreigners rarely leave with their heads held high
Nick Robinson

After a summer dominated by debate over whether UK forces have enough equipment - in particular helicopters - the government has again insisted its latest deployment will be properly kitted out.

However, with almost 100 deaths among UK personnel this year, some MPs have called for phased withdrawal of troops, with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg arguing for a review of strategy in Helmand.

Mr Cameron said he was concerned that British forces were "spread too thinly" - being responsible for two-thirds of the population of Helmand province, with the same number of US troops covering the remaining third.

David Cameron visits British troops in Helmand Province
Mr Cameron said he wanted to help the mission in whatever way he could

With the number of American personnel in the area set to double, he said he wanted British forces more concentrated in areas so they could do "proper counter-insurgency" work.

Mr Cameron insisted British troops could not be in Afghanistan for another eight years.

But he added: "Withdrawal is a bad option that would let the Taliban take over [and lead to] the danger of terrorist training camps coming back. Carrying on as we are is not an option."

Nato's top official Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said its members will send at least 7,000 extra troops to support the US-led surge.

Mr Cameron said: "This is our last big chance of success and we've got to take it."

Our correspondent said that while Mr Cameron was backing the government's strategy, it "won't stop him trying to make defence an issue at the next election".

On Friday, Mr Cameron visited British troops in Helmand and said he wanted to help the mission in whatever way he could, stressing that "the faster we succeed, the faster we can come home".

However, he stressed he was "not interested in cutting and running" from Afghanistan.

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