LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed Wednesday that the U.K. will withdraw 500 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, modestly reducing the size of the second largest foreign force in the country to 9,000.
Following a two-day visit to Afghanistan to holds talks with troops, officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Cameron told the House of Commons the withdrawal would go ahead.
His announcement follows President Barack Obama's decision last month that 33,000 American troops will leave the country by the end of next summer. About 68,000 U.S. troops will remain.
All international forces will end their combat role by the end of 2014, and the majority will leave — bar a small number of troops expected to continue working on training projects.
"This reduction reflects the progress that is being made in building up the Afghan national security forces," Cameron told legislators hours after arriving back from Afghanistan.
Cameron had previously announced that the withdrawal of 420 troops deployed on temporary missions to Afghanistan is under way and will be completed by February. Those personnel are not considered part of Britain's 9,500-strong permanent force, almost all of whom are based in the restive southern Helmand province.
Cameron's visit to the region was marred Monday by the killing of 20-year-old Scott McLaren, who went missing from a checkpoint in central Helmand and was later found with fatal gunshot wounds.
"This decision is not only right for Britain, it is right for Afghanistan too," Cameron told legislators. "It has given the Afghans a clear deadline against which to plan and has injected a sense of urgency into their efforts."
He insisted that Afghanistan's military and police were growing in confidence, and increasingly able to take full responsibility for the country's security by the end of 2014 when international forces will end their combat role.
He sadi that in a meeting in Kabul late Monday, U.S. Gen. David Petreaus had heaped praise on Afghanistan's handling of a deadly suicide attack on a luxury hotel in the country's capital.
"Petreaus went out of his way to praise the ability of the Afghan forces in a number of complex operations," Cameron said.
Some analysts say the assault raised doubts about the capability of Afghan forces to handle security. Local troops needed NATO's assistance to end the incident at Kabul's Inter-Continental hotel, in which 20 people including the attackers died.
In a news conference with Cameron on Tuesday in Kabul, Karzai said he hoped that Britain "could continue to help Afghanistan, to build up our infrastructure, build our civil society" at the same time it wound down its military mission.
"While there will be a reduction of troops — some drastic, some not so drastic — the process of transition to Afghan authority must go on unhindered and unimpeded," Karzai said.