December deadline over UK 
withdrawal

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Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said UK troops could stay in Afghanistan until December despite previous suggestions they might be withdrawn earlier amid the country’s post-election stalemate.

The Tory Minister yesterday told MPs that all British combat forces would have left the country “by the end of this year”.

He said: “We are continuing to draw down our troops. We now have only around 4,000 personnel in theatre and have redeployed over 70 per cent of our vehicles and equipment. All UK combat forces will have left Afghanistan by the end of this year.”

Over the summer – as Defence Secretary – Mr Hammond said the “bulk” of forces could be pulled out by the end of October if the country’s disputed presidential election was not resolved and an agreement put in place.

Labour’s Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) asked the Foreign Secretary if this meant the UK had given up on an early withdrawal.

He replied: “It is the case we have two candidates who disagree about the outcome but nobody disagrees that one of them has won. They are both committed to signing bilateral agreements.

“At some point those agreements must be signed, there are practical decisions which have to be made by the UK and other countries to get out forces out by December 31.

“But our working assumption is it will be put in place.”