UK troops may stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014 - official

British soldier Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Lock (2L) gathers his soldiers of the 1st Batallion of the Royal Welsh before a patrol in the streets of Showal in Nad-e-Ali district, Southern Afghanistan, in Helmand Province (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)
Plans for a compete Western pullout from Afghanistan seem to be drifting with Britain saying a small number of its soldiers may remain in the country beyond the 2014 NATO withdrawal deadline.

­A senior UK government official has said ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago that the soldiers will stay in the country to fight terrorism, Reuters reports. This is the first time has Britain indicated that troops, other than a training contingent, could remain. The official spoke on the condition that his anonymity was preserved.

This comes as the US President Barack Obama and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai signed a partnership deal cementing US support for Afghanistan and allowing Washington to keep troops there after 2014.

The British official stressed that the UK will not remain in a combat role in Afghanistan beyond the deadline but did not rule out possibility that some troops may stay. "The majority of forces that remain in Afghanistan will be in a training and mentoring role," he said on Saturday. "But I wouldn't rule out a small number of forces playing a counterterrorism role if needed. This would be in keeping with how we are working to protect ourselves from the terrorism threat emanating from other parts of the world, such as the Arabian Peninsula."

Britain, which currently has the second largest foreign contingent in Afghanistan after the US, has not yet set out plans for how many troops it will withdraw in 2013 and 2014. It earlier said that some 120 British troops will remain to help train Afghan officers.

The NATO summit kicks off in Chicago on Sunday and is expected to be dominated by Afghanistan.

US officials had earlier said that as many as 20,000 American troops may remain after the combat mission ends, but that is still to be negotiated.The United States has about 88,000 troops in the war-torn country. An additional 40,000 coalition forces remain from other nations.