The United Kingdom will likely follow the United States in reducing troops in Afghanistan but it will continue to work with its government and the US to protect the country’s security, the UK’s defence secretary Ben Wallace said on Thursday.
On Tuesday, the US announced it would be sharply reducing the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 before current President Donald Trump leaves office in mid-January, accelerating the country’s military disengagement.
The announcement came as there has been an uptick in violence, with the Taliban continuing to carry out attacks targeting government leaders, security forces and civilians.
Wallace said the Americans were not totally pulling out at this stage, and neither was the UK, which has about 1,000 troops stationed in the war-torn country.
But he said: “I expect if they (the US) are reducing at some stage, we will come down.”
Wallace said the UK had limited scope to act independently of its largest ally, but an increased funding settlement he had agreed with the finance ministry would in the future give the country greater options.
“Part of this defence review is how can Britain be more independent,” he told Sky News. “How can we complement each other around the world. If one power or another pulls out and we … decide we want to stay longer, we could do so.”
“At the moment if the United States unilaterally pulls out of some of these countries we have a challenge.”
Following the US announcement, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned that a “hasty” withdrawal by the United States, which lead’s NATO’s coalition in Afghanistan, could lead to further violence.
“We now face a difficult decision. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high,” Stoltenberg said in a statement on Monday.
NATO has fewer than 12,000 troops from dozens of nations in Afghanistan helping to train and advise the national security forces.
US troops frequently make up about half that number, and the 30-nation alliance relies heavily on the US forces for transport, logistics and other support.