"By the time of the next election, [Cameron] hopes we won't still be fighting on the ground ... but there is 'no strict or artificial timetable'."
But now Cameron has brought up the 2015 date again, and this time it sounds a lot more like a pledge than a hope. Here's what he said at a PM Direct event today:
"I don't think we should set lots of short term deadlines .... I've set, if you like, a long term cut off point of 2015.
And so be in no doubt, by 2015 we're not going to be there in a combat role, we're not going to be there in significant numbers. We may still have a training mission, or whatever, but by that time it will have been sorted and we will be out."
It's striking that Cameron should say this only days after General Sir David Richards was made head of the military. Richards has argued before that Britain's involvement in Afghanistan could last as long as 40 years - a view broadly shared by the military top-brass. Despite the coalition's reassurances to the contrary, there'll be worries that a strict timetable is on the way.