16 December 2013
Last updated at 10:37 ET
UK troops can come home from Afghanistan knowing it was mission accomplished, David Cameron has said as he visited the country.
The prime minister met forces stationed at Camp Bastion in Helmand, a year before the last British combat forces are due to leave the country.
Mr Cameron, who ate breakfast with troops, said a “basic level of security” had been achieved.
They could “come home with their heads held high”, he added.
Senior military figures are braced for increased activity as more troops pull out and expect elections being staged next year to be a particular focus for insurgent groups.
David Cameron arrived at Camp Bastion early on Monday
Asked by reporters if personnel were coming home with the message “mission accomplished”, the prime minister, accompanied by former England footballer Michael Owen, said: “Yes, I think they do.”
Michael Owen was on hand to help launch a football partnership during the trip
He added: “To me, the absolute driving part of the mission is a basic level of security so it doesn’t become a haven for terror. That is the mission, that was the mission and I think we will have accomplished that mission and so our troops can be very proud of what they have done.”
The PM met Afghan National Army soldiers during a football session
Around 5,200 British troops are now based in Afghanistan, down from 9,000 at the start of the year. There have been 446 British deaths since operations began in 2001.
Mr Cameron, who has made a pre-Christmas trip to Afghanistan every year since becoming prime minister, said: “The timetable for the withdrawal of British troops is a plan that we will stick to. I said, back in 2010, that after the end of 2014 there would not be British troops in a combat role and we will stick to that.
David Cameron was briefed by an officer at the forward operating base Sterga II
“We are not going to abandon this country. We are going to go on funding the Afghan National Army and police into the future.
“We will have a development programme into the future and, of course, we are providing what the president of Afghanistan asked me for, which is an officer training academy in Kabul which will help provide the backbone of the Afghan National Army for the future.
“So, we have more than played our part in helping to rebuild this country and making it safe.
UK troops in Afghanistan are set to end combat operations next year
“Our commitment goes on into the future but our troops have done enough and it’s time for them to come home.”
Mr Cameron took a helicopter to a forward operating base, Sterga 2, in the Nahr-e Saraj part of Helmand, where he had lunch with a small group of soldiers.
Lance Corporal Bill Hay said: “I’m most surprised by the fact he’s actually coming out here. Most of the time, people will only get as far as Bastion. So I’m quite chuffed and interested that he’s pushed further.”