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Cablegate: Conservative Leader Cameron Welcomes Afghanistan Strategy

VZCZCXYZ0015
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLO #2780/01 3451313
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 111313Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4306
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L LONDON 002780

NOFORN SIPDIS

FOR EUR/WE; L/LEI E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/09/2019

TAGS: PGOV PREL MARR MOPS KCRM AF PK UK

SUBJECT: CONSERVATIVE LEADER CAMERON WELCOMES AFGHANISTAN STRATEGY REF: LONDON 2768

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Richard LeBaron for reasons 1.4 b and d

1.(C/NF) Summary. Conservative Party leader David Cameron told Ambassador Susman December 9 that he witnessed "palpable enthusiasm" during a recent trip to Afghanistan and had returned from his visit "really optimistic." Cameron observed that given the influx soon of U.S. forces into Helmand province, British troops should pull out of some areas in Helmand and concentrate their efforts. The Alliance should focus on "a success-based timetable, not just a time-based timetable" in Afghanistan and should send a clear message to Afghans that we won't "desert them," he stated. Cameron affirmed that he agreed with President Obama on the way forward in Afghanistan, adding that the mission there is "tough" but essential. He confirmed he had heard that the Labour government might decide to hold the next general election on March 25 -- or it might decide on sometime in May. Cameron said he had been considering a trip to the U.S. early next year but had decided to defer travel. In regard to efforts to extradite to the U.S. alleged UK hacker Gary McKinnon, Cameron said that he had raised the extradition with the Ambassador in an earlier conversation because the case was a matter of concern for many in the British public, who generally feel McKinnon is guilty, but are "sympathetic" to him. End Summary. "Really Optimistic"

About Afghanistan... ----------------------------------------

2.(C/NF) Ambassador Susman met with Conservative Party leader David Cameron December 9. Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague also participated in the meeting. (Edward Llewellyn, Chief of Staff to David Cameron, and Embassy Poloff Chris Palmer attended the meeting as notetakers.) Cameron, who had visited Afghanistan December 4-6 with Shadow Defense Secretary Liam Fox (reftel), said he witnessed "palpable enthusiasm" among his U.S. and UK interlocutors, including U.S. troops. "I came back really optimistic," Cameron stated. He said he had excellent meetings with U.S. interlocutors.

...But Two Concerns -------------------

3.(C/NF) Cameron stated that he has two specific concerns about the mission in Afghanistan. First, Cameron pointed to the fact that British troops in Helmand province are responsible for the security of about 70 percent of Helmand's territory. He said that the incoming surge of U.S. troops into Helmand would change the relative proportions of U.S. and UK forces; given the influx soon of U.S. forces, British troops should pull out of some areas in Helmand and concentrate their efforts. "I am confident this will be sorted out," Cameron stressed.

4. (C/NF) Cameron signaled his discomfort with public discussion of "timetables" for the withdrawal of international forces in Afghanistan. "On the ground, there is concern that the Taliban are saying, 'stick it out for 18 months.'" The Alliance should focus on "a success-based timetable, not just a time-based timetable," Cameron continued. However, U.S. and UK troops whom Cameron spoke with in Afghanistan seem to be "okay" with a timetable, Cameron observed. The U.S., UK and other allies need to send a clear message to Afghans that we won't "desert them," he stated. "If they think we're not going to be around, there will be consequences, including for Pakistan." At the end of the meeting with the Ambassador, Cameron returned to the subject of Afghanistan and affirmed that he agreed with President Obama on the way forward in Afghanistan, adding that the mission there is "tough" but essential. The Ambassador thanked Cameron for his continued support for our shared mission in Afghanistan.

Election in March? ------------------

5. (C/NF) When queried by the Ambassador, Cameron confirmed he had heard the rumors that the Labour government might decide to hold the next general election on March 25 -- or it might decide on sometime in May. He predicted that the government would reach a decision in late February as to whether to hold an election on March 25 or in May. (Note: In a separate meeting the same day with the Ambassador (reftel), Shadow Defense Secretary Liam Fox also confirmed he had heard rumors that the Labour government might decide to hold the election March 25, announcing its decision on February 25. End Note.)

Travel Deferred ---------------

6. (C/NF) Cameron said that he had been considering a trip to the U.S. early next year but had decided that "maybe it's not a good idea." The UK media might try to spin the trip to his, and the Conservatives', disadvantage, he said. There is no urgent need to schedule a trip after the New Year; "I've met President Obama twice and I admire what he is doing," Cameron said.

McKinnon Extradition --------------------

7. (C/NF) Ambassador Susman outlined the status of efforts to extradite to the U.S. alleged UK hacker Gary McKinnon. Cameron noted that neither McKinnon's lawyers nor his mother had been in touch with him. Cameron said he had raised the extradition with the Ambassador in an earlier conversation because the case was a matter of concern for many in the British public. British people generally feel McKinnon is guilty, "but they are sympathetic," Cameron said.

Comment -------

8.(C/NF) Cameron's statements to the Ambassador about Afghanistan gibe with his public comments. After returning from his visit last weekend to Afghanistan, Cameron said he would not commit to a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops and cautioned about raising "false hopes," stating that "it's pretty unlikely you're going to see a reduction in British troop numbers next year." Cameron also said UK forces were spread "too thinly." (Note: The clear hope, whether realistic or not, is that a greater concentration of UK forces over less area would lead to fewer casualties. End Note.) That said, his public statements have consistently underscored the necessity of the Alliance's mission in Afghanistan. Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX Susman

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