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Thousands of British troops to quit Afghanistan in 2013

16 October, 2012

LONDON: Britain plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan next year, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said on Sunday, as pressure mounts to end British involvement in the costly and unpopular war.

More than 430 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001, yet stability remains elusive and violence high, while relations between Western troops and Afghan forces and civilians are increasingly frayed.

Britain on Sunday said it had charged five soldiers with murder as part of an investigation into what it called an engagement with an insurgent in Afghanistan last year, and that a total of nine soldiers had been arrested in connection with the case.

Some 500 British troops are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of this year, leaving around 9,000 still there.

Asked about troop withdrawals next year, Hammond told the BBC: "I would expect it will be significant, which means thousands, not hundreds, but I would not expect it to be the majority."

That would indicate a potential withdrawal of up to 4,500 personnel in 2013.

All British combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Britain's defence budget, like that of other NATO members, is under pressure, forcing the defence ministry to slash spending and cut force numbers and equipment programs.

The Treasury, struggling to revive a flagging economy, earlier this year said it would use money once earmarked for the military mission in Afghanistan to fund tax cuts.

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