Unpopular war: UK to reduce Afghan troops in 2013

Updated 19 December 2012
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Unpopular war: UK to reduce Afghan troops in 2013

LONDON: Britain will withdraw nearly half of its 9,000 soldiers from Afghanistan by the end of next year as Afghan national forces take on a bigger role, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday.
Nearly all of Britain's soldiers are due to pull out by the end of 2014, drawing to an end a long, costly and unpopular war that has cost the lives of more than 430 British troops.
"Because of the success of our forces and the Afghan national security forces ... we'll be able to see troops come home in two relatively even steps — 2013 and 2014 — leaving probably around 5,200 troops after the end of 2013, compared to the 9,000 we have now," Cameron told Parliament.
Britain, which has the second biggest foreign contingent in Afghanistan after the United States, says its involvement has helped to stabilize the country and has prevented militants from finding a safe haven.
But the war's critics say the country is less stable after more than a decade of violence and they question why Britain has spent so much money on the campaign at a time of strained public finances at home.
Britain's defense budget, like that of other NATO members, is under pressure, forcing the Defense Ministry to spend less on troop numbers and equipment.
Ties between Western troops and Afghan forces have been tested by a series of "insider" attacks against NATO coalition troops by Afghan soldiers or by militants wearing Afghan military uniform.
After 2014, Britain will keep a small amount of soldiers in Afghanistan to help train Afghan forces, Cameron added.
Britain has already said it intends to pull out all its combat troops by the end of 2014 and hand over security responsibility from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Afghan forces.
But the government has faced growing pressure at home to speed up the withdrawal from Afghanistan, where Britain has been fighting since 2001, following a series of "insider attacks."
The final decision on the latest withdrawal was taken at a meeting of Britain's National Security Council on Tuesday morning, reports said.
Britain, which has lost 438 troops in Afghanistan since operations began in October 2001, has already withdrawn 500 troops from Afghanistan in 2012.
Of these, at least 395 were killed as a result of hostile action.
The US military currently has about 66,000 troops on the ground, as part of a NATO-led force of roughly 100,000.
The British announcement comes as Kabul laid out a five-step plan that could bring hardline Taleban into government as efforts to broker peace accelerate ahead of the withdrawal of Western troops.


France charges two ex-spies with passing secrets to ‘foreign power’

Updated 7 min 42 sec ago
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France charges two ex-spies with passing secrets to ‘foreign power’

  • Two former French spies, one of whom was reportedly posted in Beijing, have been charged with passing intelligence to a “foreign power,”
  • French media reports, citing sources close to the inquiry, said China is suspected

PARIS: Two former French spies, one of whom was reportedly posted in Beijing, have been charged with passing intelligence to a “foreign power,” a disclosure that has rocked the country’s intelligence services.
Defense Minister Florence Parly, who oversees the country’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), said Friday that she was not in a position to identify the country which recruited the agents, who were discovered and indicted in December.
“Two French agents in our service and probably one of the spouses of these agents are accused of serious acts likely to be considered acts of treason, on suspicions of delivering information to a foreign power,” Parly told CNews television.
“I can’t say much else,” she added.
“France has partners but we live in a dangerous world, and unfortunately these types of things can happen.”
French media reports, citing sources close to the inquiry, said China is suspected.
Parly said the agents were “quite likely” still in service at the time but investigators were still determining how long they had been passing along intelligence.
She also declined to specify the nature of compromised information, nor to reveal if the two agents were working together.
A judicial source told AFP late Thursday that two of the three suspects are being prosecuted for “delivering to a foreign power information that undermines the fundamental interests of the nation” and “compromising the secrecy of national defense.”
“One of them has also been charged for direct incitement to the crime of treason,” the source added.
The third person — believed to be the wife — has been indicted for “concealment of treasonable crimes” and placed under judicial control, meaning they are subject to certain constraints pending trial, according to the same source.
The armed forces ministry said: “These acts of extreme gravity have been detected by this service, which has brought these facts to its knowledge to the Paris prosecutor.”