In many ways this is smart politics. Given that President Obama has said that US troops would be looking to come home from 2011 onwards, it is hardly surprising that the Tory leader hopes British troops would return within the next five years. Other countries in Helmand, like Denmark, have begun signaling the same. The statement may – I say may – help those who care passionately about the war and who don’t feel at home with Labour and the Lib Dems. And even if this segment of the electorate is very small, Cameron’s line will be a helpful. He has also gone out of his way to say that any withdrawal must be based on conditions on the ground.
But all the same, is it strategically wise to signal a “withdrawalist” disposition? Is there not enough uncertainty about the international community’s commitment in Afghanistan. President Obama’s 2011 deadline was seen as useful domestically, but less helpful on the ground. Is there a risk Cameron’s line will be seen similarly? And what will it do to British sway in Kabul?