Faster troop pullout urged by U.K. minister
A 'reset' of Afghanistan timelines urged during visit to Kabul
The defence minister in Britain's new coalition government visited Afghanistan on Saturday with other senior officials after saying he hopes to speed the withdrawal of British troops from the country.
Defence Secretary Liam Fox, Foreign Secretary William Hague and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, who took office after this month's national election, will hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. commander of international forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
The visit comes after Fox told the London Times newspaper he "would like the forces to come back [home] as soon as possible."
Fox was quoted as saying he wanted to see if it was possible to speed the training of Afghan troops, allowing foreign troops to leave sooner than forecast. McChrystal has said Afghanistan should be able to take care of its own security by 2014.
In a signal that Britain may be limiting its ambitions, Fox was quoted as saying "we have to reset ambitions and timelines."
'We're not a global policeman'
"National security is the focus now," he said. "We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy of a broken 13th-century country. We are there to see the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened."
Years of mounting insurgency and rising casualties have seen British politicians — from both the previous Labour government and its Conservative-Liberal Democrat successor — play down talk of building a prosperous, stable Afghanistan.
Hague, however, said Britain remains committed to Afghanistan. He told reporters on the trip that "the question is how to support the efforts of the Afghan government and our NATO partners, not whether to support them."
"We are taking stock as a new government, we want to see how things are working, we want to hear the military advice, we want to talk to the Afghan government themselves, we want to discuss the detail with the United States," he said, according to Britain's Press Association news agency.
Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, mostly based in the Taliban heartland of Helmand in the south.
Almost 300 British personnel have died in the country since 2001.
British troops were being visited Saturday by soccer star David Beckham. The 35-year-old former England national captain was due to take part in a question-and-answer session with soldiers in Helmand.
"I have nothing but admiration for these young men and women, and it makes me very proud to be British," Beckham said.