The withdrawal of the 4,000 British troops in Iraq will be completed by next June, a senior defence source has disclosed.
The Prime Minister is expected to make an announcement in the New Year laying out the timetable for the pull out after more than six years in the country.
While a replacement brigade of another 4,000 troops is already training to replace the current force, no decision has been made yet on whether any elements will be sent to Afghanistan.
But it is understood that the fleet of half a dozen medium list Merlin helicopters and a number of reconnaissance drones will be sent to help the fourth in Helmand almost immediately.
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With the Americans formulating their final exit plans with the Iraqi Government, that will be finalised once the President-elect, Barack Obama, takes power, the British are expected to conclude the final state of their forces in Iraq in the coming weeks.
It is expected that a number of troops will remain to continue the “Sandhurst in the desert training” of Iraqi officers and a few hundred Royal Navy personnel to mentor Iraqi sailors in the port south of Basra.