British PM first leader to visit new Afghan president Ghani

KABUL- British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday became the first world leader to hold talks with newly-inaugurated Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, as NATO troops end their long war against the Taliban.

Cameron arrived in Kabul on the unannounced visit after visiting an air base in Cyprus, where British jets launching strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq are based.

Ghani was sworn in on Monday after a fraud-tainted election that plunged Afghanistan into months of political deadlock.

In a US-brokered deal, Ghani signed a power-sharing agreement with his former poll rival Abdullah Abdullah, who was appointed to the new position of “chief executive”.

The stability of the new “national unity government” is seen as essential for Afghanistan’s future as the international military presence and aid funding declines.

The presidential palace in Kabul and British officials confirmed that the visit had started, and talks were under way.

The British army has wound down its presence in the volatile southern Afghan province of Helmand after years of heavy fighting in some areas where the Taliban has launched fresh offensives in recent weeks.

Britain still has 3,900 troops in the country as part of the NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), most of them at Camp Bastion in Kandahar province.

ISAF will complete its combat mission at the end of this year, with a follow-up “support” mission taking over in 2015 on training duties, assisting the Afghan army and police.

The British contribution to the follow-up mission will be at an army officers’ training academy outside Kabul.