TORONTO (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday he would like to see UK troops pull out of Afghanistan within five years.
Asked if UK troops would be home by the time of the next election, due by 2015, Cameron said, “I want that to happen, make no mistake about it.”
“We can’t be there for another five years, having been there for nine years already,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a G20 summit.
On Wednesday, the head of the British army, General David Richards, said he thought British troops could stay in Afghanistan for another three to five years.
Despite an increase in the U.S.-dominated foreign force to 150,000, the Taliban insurgency is at its strongest since the hardline Islamists were overthrown in 2001.
U.S. forces are set to begin withdrawing starting next July, leaving Afghan forces to take the lead. The U.S. administration has not said how many troops will be withdrawn or how quickly they will leave.
British forces have been engaged in some of the fiercest fighting in the southern province of Helmand. The British military death toll since 2001 has risen above 300, eroding support for the mission among the British public.
“I prefer not to see it in strict timetables,” Cameron said. “I want us to roll up our sleeves and get on with delivering what will bring the success we want, which is not a perfect Afghanistan, but some stability in Afghanistan and the ability for the Afghans themselves to run their country so they can come home.”
An aide said the prime minister, who has ruled out sending more troops to Afghanistan, was not making a new policy promise and had said frequently during his election campaign this year that getting the troops back within 5 years was an ambition.
Reporting by Sumeet Desai; Editing by Louise Ireland