David Cameron meets troops in Afghanistan
David Cameron meets troops in Afghanistan (Reuters)

David Cameron has declared "mission accomplished" in Afghanistan during a Christmas visit to troops in Camp Bastion.

The prime minister said British forces could withdraw with their heads high because they had met their objective of providing a level of security in the country and ensured it will not again become a haven for terrorists.

Asked if troops would leave next year with their mission accomplished he said: "Yes I think they do. I think they can come home with their heads held high."

His remarks were immediately criticised for echoing US President George W Bush's triumphalist comment at the end of the Iraq war in 2003 which preceded that country's collapse back into violence, something it is feared may well happen in Afghanistan.

Labour MP Paul Flynn, a regular critic of the operation, declared on Twitter: "Afghan mission accomplished: 426 UK dead, 2,000 grievously injured, uncounted Afghan dead, £40bn UK cost, Crook Karsai rules, drugs rampant."

The prime minister's spokesman later repeated the sentiment saying "of course" Cameron did not regret making the comment.

"He was explaining what our armed forces in Afghanistan have achieved. Is the situation in Afghanistan perfect? The prime minister himself has said not. Has the situation improved significantly in terms of the threat from terrorists based in Afghanistan - yes it has, as a result of the achievement of our armed forces," he said.

Speaking in Camp Bastion, the prime minister said that the withdrawal of troops was "right for our forces, it's right for our country, but it's also right for Afghanistan".

"People here don't want foreign forces on their soil indefinitely and it's very important that the Afghan national army and police force and government step up to the plate to deliver the security that our troops have done such a good job in producing.

"Afghanistan is an extremely poor country with a very, very troubled history, but the purpose of our mission is to build Afghan security forces that were capable of maintaining a basic level of security so this country never again became a haven for terrorist training camps. The Afghan security forces are capable," he said.

There are widespread fears that as soon as foreign troops have left the country, the Taliban will reassert itself making talk of "mission accomplished" appear as ill-made as the US president's.