08 Dec 2011 By Andrew Hough THE TELEGRAPH
Thousands of British troops could leave Afghanistan sooner than expected under proposals being considered by the government, it has emerged.
Ministers are said to be drawing up plans for up to 4000 troops to leave the war zone by the end of 2013, a much larger number than previously thought.
The proposals are reported to be one of several to be put before David Cameron at a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) next week.
Under the plans being put together by military chief, the number of British troops stationed in the Helmand province would be cut from 9,000 to 5,000 during 2013.
The Guardian reported that almost the same number would leave the following year, meaning just a few hundred would remain the country’s capital, Kabul, when Nato ends its combat role.
The sharp acceleration in troop withdrawal is said to be one of three options being prepared by the Ministry of Defence, which are to be considered by the Prime Minister.
It was claimed the option was favoured by at least two senior, unnamed members of the Cabinet, who have expressed a desire to cut the costs of the decade-long military campaign. Others include a less aggressive withdrawal operation.
The NSC meeting, to be held on Tuesday, will reportedly discuss the different scenarios amid growing international concern about the future of Afghanistan.
A government official, who declined to be named, said the MoD was unaware of these proposals and insisted British forces would remain where they are now.
Last night a spokesman for the Cabinet Office, which is in charge of the NSC, said: “We can confirm that the National Security Council will discuss Afghanistan next week to look at our approach up to and beyond 2014.
"This happens regularly in NSC discussions as you would expect.
"The PM has already said that 500 UK troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of next year and the Government has been clear that by the end of 2014, British troops will not be in Afghanistan in significant numbers or in a combat role."
She added: "The NSC discussions will take place within the context of the wider international effort.
"As the Foreign Secretary set out in Bonn this week, the international community will continue to support Afghanistan long after 2014 to help build national safety, security and prosperity."
A MoD spokesman declined to comment.