Britain will reduce the number of its troops in Iraq soon and send more to Afghanistan to fight remnants of the Taliban, a senior military officer said.
The Iraq contingent will decrease in "battalion chunks" following the elections expected at the end of the year, Air Marshal Glenn Torpy said, quoted by The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
By next year, the 1,000-man British force in Afghanistan is likely to be increased considerably as the army, backed by Royal Air Force Harrier jets, move into more dangerous parts of the country to combat the growing heroin trade and to hunt down remaining Taliban.
The United States, backed by Britain and other allies, launched a war against the Islamist Taliban and Osama bin Laden”s Al-Qaeda network in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.
The Afghanistan deployment depends on the situation in the Middle East becoming more "manageable", although Torpy expected "a satisfactory conclusion" to the Iraq operation within 18 months.
Iraqi Defense Forces, trained by the western allies, are now expected to assume a larger role in establishing security in the British sector in southern Iraq, Torpy was quoted as saying.
"At the end of the year, after the election period, we should be in a position to start a gradual reduction in British forces," he was quoted as saying.
Troop numbers in Afghanistan will automatically increase when the British-led Allied Rapid Reaction Corps is scheduled to deploy there in May next year.
The NATO unit, working alonside the US-trained Afghanistan National Army, will be deployed in the more dangerous southern area of the country where US troops will still operate.