LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron paid a pre-Christmas visit to British troops in Afghanistan on Monday and said the drawdown of British forces was well under way ahead of the end of combat operations in 2014.
Cameron spent the unannounced visit at Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan, accompanied by former Liverpool and England footballer Michael Owen, his Downing Street office told AFP.
“The big drawdown is now taking place. This is 2013 and as I’ve said there’ll be no troops in a combat role after 2014,” Cameron said in a video on the website of Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“We made that promise, we’re going to be meeting that promise.
“And you can see here in Camp Bastion the drawdown, the Afghan national forces are taking over the work and we’re bringing our troops back home and I’m pleased to be doing that.”
He separately told the BBC: “I think our troops can leave with their heads held high over a job very well done.”
Britain currently has around 5,200 troops in Afghanistan, a Ministry of Defence spokesman told AFP, down from 9,000 at the start of the year.
Owen joined Cameron for the announcement of a football partnership between the Football Association (the sport’s governing body in England) and the English Premier League, and their Afghan equivalents.
Owen said that the initiative was aimed at “providing know-how and expertise and support to hopefully improve the game over here.”
“The Afghan side have been quite successful in their national team, so they know how to play alright,” he told the Telegraph.
Owen added that Cameron had taken the top bunk on their military flight over to Afghanistan.
“He had first pick, he jumped on the top which was the surprising thing, so it left me to chat to the pilots for half an hour and then I followed him and, as I say, went down to the bottom,” he said.
Football, which is undergoing a revival in Afghanistan, is seen as a way of fostering better relations between communities in the country, Downing Street said.
“It’s basically an announcement about helping develop football across Afghanistan at all levels from school and grassroots up to league and international level,” a Downing Street spokeswoman told AFP.