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British Troops to Leave Afghanistan Soon - 2002-06-20

British troops soon will be leaving Afghanistan, following the transfer of the command of the international security force in Kabul from Britain to Turkey. After six months of peacekeeping duties and a separate two-month combat deployment, British soldiers will soon be heading home.

In a televised news conference in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged that while not everything is perfect in Afghanistan now, the time has come to let others take the lead. "There is no doubt at all that, I mean al-Qaida has been dismantled and destroyed in Afghanistan pretty much," Prime Minister Blair said, "Its capability to organize and launch attacks that have been organized post-September 11 are very much reduced. "

With Turkey taking control of the international security force in Kabul, about 1,000 British peacekeepers will be pulling out in the coming weeks, leaving only a small force of around 300.

In addition, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told parliament that a 1700-member British marine combat force also would soon be leaving Afghanistan. "The phased drawdown of the force will begin on the Fourth of July and, subject as always to operational demands, should be complete by late next month," Mr. Hoon said, "The drawdown will enable us to rest and reconstitute our forces for future contingencies."

Observers here believe those contingencies center on possible plans to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussen, but Prime Minister Blair would not discuss the matter at his new conference.

While the British force has not incurred a single casualty in Afghanistan, the goals of capturing Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar have not been realized either.