UK Defence chiefs draw up plans for faster withdrawal from Afghanistan
Defence chiefs are drawing up plans for a faster withdrawal from Afghanistan, after George Osborne challenged their strategy and suggested that all troops should come home immediately.

The Daily Telegraph has learnt that at a recent Whitehall meeting on withdrawal, the Chancellor questioned the purpose of continuing Britain’s Afghan mission for another two years.

David Cameron has promised that British combat operations will be over by the end of 2014.

Ministers and military commanders are in discussions over how quickly to reduce troop numbers as the deadline approaches, with Armed Forces chiefs having to draw up new options for a bigger withdrawal next year than was being considered.

No decisions about withdrawals in 2013 are now expected to be made until the new year.

The Chancellor challenged the Army’s presence in Afghanistan at a meeting of the National Security Council last month, attended by senior ministers, military commanders and intelligence chiefs.

At the meeting, commanders briefed ministers on the operations that will involve thousands of troops over the next two years.

Mr Osborne is understood to have responded to the military presentation by calling into question the proposed plan for withdrawal, asking why British forces should not come home now.

One source described the Chancellor’s response to the defence chiefs as “deliberately provocative”. A second witness to the exchange said the intervention was characteristic of Mr Osborne’s style.

Ministers and military chiefs are debating the timetable for removing the last 9,000 British troops from Afghanistan. Mr Osborne’s scepticism is helping to prolong the decision-making process on how many to withdraw next year.

Posted by: lotp 2012-10-13