Thousands of British troopsto exit Afghanistan in 2013

Britain plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan next year, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said on Sunday, as pressure mounts to end British involvement in the costly and unpopular war.

More than 430 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the US-led intervention in 2001, yet stability remains elusive and violence high, while relations between Western troops and Afghan forces and civilians are increasingly frayed. Some 500 British troops are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of this year, leaving around 9,000 still there.

Asked about troop withdrawals next year, Hammond told the BBC: “I would expect it will be significant, which means thousands, not hundreds, but I would not expect it to be the majority.” That would indicate a potential withdrawal of up to 4,500 personnel in 2013.

All British combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Britain’s defence budget, like that of other Nato members, is under pressure, forcing the defence ministry to slash spending and cut force numbers and equipment programs.

The Treasury, struggling to revive a flagging economy, earlier this year said it would use money once earmarked for the military mission in Afghanistan to fund tax cuts.

Ties between Western troops and Afghan forces have also deteriorated after a series of "insider" attacks against NATO coalition troops by Afghan soldiers or by militants wearing Afghan military uniform.

5 UK marines charged with murder

Five elite Royal Marines have been charged with murder over the death of an insurgent in Afghanistan in 2011, PTI reports from London. The British Ministry of Defence announced on Sunday that seven marines were arrested on October 11 by the military police. Two more were later arrested. Four have been released without charge pending further inquiries, it said. The marines were arrested after suspicious video footage was found on a serviceman’s laptop by civilian police in the UK. The incident took place in Helmand province last year, but investigators only began an inquiry in recent weeks. The charges are related to an incident in Afghanistan last year, when Royal Marine 3 Commando Brigade was based in Helmand, the report said.

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