Britain's defense secretary says more U.K. troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2013 than previously hoped, as local forces take on the majority of combat duties.

Philip Hammond was quoted Friday by The Guardian newspaper as saying there was "scope for a little bit more flexibility" on withdrawals next year.

Britain has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan — the second largest foreign force after the United States — based in the southern Helmand province.

About 500 troops will leave this year, ahead of the withdrawal of all international forces at the end of 2014.

Prime Minister David Cameron hasn't set out publicly how many will quit in 2013, but warned in July about raising "false hopes" of a major drawdown.

Britain will confirm its strategy after November's U.S. election.