The UK Ministry of Defence has drafted plans for a significant withdrawal of British troops from Iraq over the next 18 months and a big deployment to Afghanistan, the Financial Times reports.
The first stage of a run-down in military operations is likely to take place this autumn with a handover of security to Iraqis in at least two southern provinces. Defence officials emphasised that all plans for Iraqi deployments were contingent on the ability of Iraqi security forces to assume duties from UK troops. Iraqi forces have so far proven unable to take over such roles in areas where the insurgency is most intense.
But senior UK officers believe the four south-east provinces under UK command, which are largely Shia and have not seen the same violence as more Sunni-dominated areas north of Baghdad, may be ready for a handover earlier than those under US command.
Reduction of UK troops would be timed to coincide with deployment of up to 3,000 troops to Afghanistan before the end of next year, where they would join a Nato force to take over from US troops in the south of Afghanistan.