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British Troops May Begin Leaving Afghanistan Next Year

British Prime Minister David Cameron (C) arrives at Lashkar Gah base, Afghanistan on an unannounced trip, 7 Dec 2010

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday British troops may begin withdrawing from Afghanistan as early as next year.

Mr. Cameron made the remarks during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan's Helmand province, where he met with Britain's top military official, General David Richards.

The two men said recent security improvements may allow Britain to start drawing down troops in 2011. Mr. Cameron added the goal is to withdraw all British forces by 2015.

Gates in Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan Tuesday, met with U.S. commanders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

A Pentagon spokesman said Gates is "feeling pretty good" about the progress in Afghanistan.

The White House is preparing to release a progress report on the war in coming days.

NATO members agreed last month to hand over military control to Afghan forces in 2014.

But the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, said Monday he is not sure whether the Afghan army will be ready to take over security from NATO forces by the 2014 deadline.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. Marine commander in Afghanistan, Major General Richard Mills, said Tuesday the battle in the southern Taliban stronghold of Marjah is "essentially over."

He added, however, that tough fighting continues in other parts of Helmand province, including the Sangin district where U.S. Marines have taken over from British troops.

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