British troops will step back from their lead combat role in Afghanistan by the end of 2013 under plans drawn up by the Nato-led Isaf international alliance, Downing Street has said.
The announcement followed comments by both the United States and France, ahead of a Nato summit in Brussels yesterday, suggesting that the Isaf coalition will make a transition out of combat next year.
But Downing Street denied the move amounted to an acceleration in the handover of control over Afghanistan to local forces, insisting it was in line with a strategy agreed at the Nato summit in Lisbon in 2010.
It is envisaged Afghan forces will take over lead security responsibility in all parts of the country by the end of next year, said David Cameron’s official spokesman.
Isaf troops – including UK personnel – will retain a “supporting” combat role during 2014, but Afghan forces will be in the lead throughout the country.
Mr Cameron has previously said the UK’s military role in Afghanistan will be completed by the end of 2014, but added that he wanted to avoid a “cliff-edge” withdrawal of the entire force at that point.
He has also said that the UK will be able to reduce its force levels by 500 to 9,000 this year.
Yesterday’s announcement provides further detail on the way in which the transition to home-grown authorities will take place.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters: “Hopefully by the mid to later part of 2013 we’ll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role.”
Asked about Mr Panetta’s comments, Mr Cameron’s spokesman said: “The agreed ISAF strategy hasn’t changed.
“The strategy envisages progressively transitioning areas of the country. Within that strategy, it is envisaged Afghan forces should have the lead security responsibility across the country by the end of 2013.