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David Cameron has declared that the British public "want an endgame" in Afghanistan, even if that means leaving the country without a perfect democracy.
As he arrived in Washington for key talks with Barack Obama on UK-US withdrawal plans, the Prime Minister said that next year offered an opportunity to start a phased troop pull-out before a final exit in 2014.
Although Mr Cameron insisted that neither he nor the US President wanted to ‘rush’ an exit strategy, he recognised the public’s desire for an end to their soldiers’ 10-year involvement in the war-torn nation.
"I think people want an endgame. They want to know that our troops are going to come home, they have been there a very long time,” he told reporters on his plane to the US.
"What I define as doing the job is leaving Afghanistan looking after its own security, not being a haven for terror, without the involvement of foreign troops. That should be our goal. So that the British public, our troops and the Afghan Government, frankly, know there's an end to this.”
There are fears that violent extremism and curbs to women’s rights could continue after any pull-out, but Mr Cameron made clear that his main priority was Britain’s national security.
"I accept it won't be a perfect democracy. There will be huge development problems,” he said.
An ITN poll this week showed that 73% of people felt that the Afghan war was ‘unwinnable’ and more than half wanted British troops to come home now.
After a brief trip to the White House, the Prime Minister’s three-day visit began with a visit to a basketball game in Ohio. To get to the game, he became the first foreign leader of the Obama Presidency to travel on Air Force One. Talks on Afghanistan as well as Syria and Iran will dominate events later today.
Mr Cameron told reporters that he and the President were ‘both frustrated’ by the ongoing situation in Syria.
He also praised the American President’s ‘deeply rational’ approach to global issues.
“I'm very glad I do get on so well with Barack Obama. Obama's approach is deeply rational and reasonable, and also very strong.
“I think the special relationship survives. It's increasingly strong, based on common interests and common values.. We shouldn't have to take its temperature all the time. Sometimes we can over analyze how many phone calls and how many meetings, but I don't look at it like that.”
Earlier, the President announced a full inquiry into the shooting of Afghan civilians by an American soldier, following a Taliban attack on a memorial service held for the victims.
William Hague, who is accompanying Mr Cameron along with George Osborne, became the first Foreign Secretary to attend the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, the equivalent of GCHQ in the US.
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