LONDON: Britain will keep its current level of 450 troops on non-combat missions in Afghanistan through 2016, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said in a written statement to parliament on Tuesday.

The announcement comes after the United States earlier this month announced that thousands of its troops would stay in Afghanistan longer than promised following intense recent fighting.

“Both the US and our own decisions underline Nato’s continued commitment to training and assisting Afghan forces as they grow stronger,” Fallon said.

“We have now concluded that we should maintain the scale of the UK’s current military mission in the country in 2016, to help build a secure and stable Afghanistan,” he added.

Fallon explained that British troops were involved in training Afghan army officers, building capacity in Afghan security ministries and supporting Nato operations in Kabul.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed Britain’s announcement.

International help for the Afghan army “augments the commitment and effectiveness of these forces to fulfil their grand mission, and further boosts their morale”, he said in a statement.

“The government of Afghanistan thanks its international partners like Britain for their assistance,” he said.

The last British combat troops in Afghanistan were airlifted out of Camp Bastion, a sprawling base located in the southern Helmand province, last Oct­ober. The pull-out formally end­ed a mission that lasted lon­ger than World War II and cost 453 lives.

Britain had previously said it would keep non-combat troops in Kabul through 2015 at least. President Barack Obama has said the US will maintain its current force of 9,800 in the country through 2016, going back on a campaign promise to end the war in Afghanistan after acknowledging that Afghan forces were not ready to stand alone.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2015

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