LONDON: Some British troops will have to stay in Afghanistan till 2015 to ensure the departure of forces is properly managed, defence minister Philip Hammond said on Tuesday.
Combat operations are still due to finish by the end of 2014 but the final tours of duty will be extended to last up to a maximum of nine months for a “relatively small number” of personnel, Hammond told parliament.
British troops currently serve around six months in Afghanistan, but those deploying this October will stay for eight months.
Hammond said: “The rationale for this decision is clear and is based on advice from military commanders.” He said one reason was to “better align the final tours with key milestones in the transition process such as the Afghan presidential elections in spring 2014”.
The six-month rotation of British forces would have coincided with the elections.
Hammond said extending the tours would also remove the need to train and deploy another brigade to cover the final two months of 2014.
The move means only two more brigades will be needed before British forces withdraw in 2015.
A few hundred soldiers will remain in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan into 2015 after combat operations have ended to complete the process of returning valuable equipment to Britain.
Prime Minister David Cameron has already said that the size of the British force in Afghanistan will be reduced from its peak of 9,500 military personnel to about 5,200 by the end of this year.
Hammond told parliament that troop numbers would be at about 7,900 by the end of this month.
British troops have been based in Helmand since the campaign began in 2001.
A total of 444 British soldiers have lost their lives, mainly in attacks involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) laid by the Taliban,but the number of deaths has slowed steadily this year.