UK will likely follow the U.S. in cutting Afghanistan troops, minister says

FILE PHOTO: British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace leaves after the service marking Armistice Day at Westminster Abbey in London, Britain November 11, 2020. Aaron Chown/PA Wire/Pool via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will likely follow the United States in reducing troop levels in Afghanistan but it will continue to work with its government and the U.S. to protect the country’s security, Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Thursday.

The Pentagon said on Tuesday President Donald Trump would sharply reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.

Wallace said the Americans were not totally pulling out at this stage, and neither was Britain.

But he said: “I expect if they (the U.S.) are reducing at some stage, we will come down.”

Wallace said Britain had limited scope to act independently of its largest ally, but an increased funding settlement he had agreed with the finance ministry would in the future give the country greater options.

“Part of this defence review is how can Britain be more independent,” he told Sky News. “How can we complement each other around the world. If one power or another pulls out and we ... decide we want to stay longer, we could do so.”

“At the moment if the United States unilaterally pulls out of some of these countries we have a challenge.”

Reporting by Paul Sandle and Kate Holton, editing by Elizabeth Piper