BRITAIN TO SEND MORE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
by Phil Hazlewood
July 10, 2006
LONDON (AFP) - Britain
said it will send nearly 900 more troops to southern Afghanistan between now and October to grapple
with Taliban insurgents, bringing its total deployment in the area to 4,400.
In a statement to parliament,
Defence Secretary Des Browne added that more support helicopters would be sent to the troubled region, together with a radar
British forces in southern
Afghanistan are concentrated in restive Helmand
province, where six soldiers have died in Taliban-related combat in the past month.
The extra troops will be
drawn from the Royal Marines, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal Engineers -- with the
latter to "accelerate the reconstruction effort".
Senior military personnel,
speaking on condition of anonymity, said a force of about 150 men from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers -- currently on standby
in Cyprus -- would be sent in the next
Two platoons -- about 60
soldiers -- from the Royal Irish Regiment would follow in the coming weeks. A 300-strong Royal Engineers contingent will support
British government-backed aid and reconstruction work.
The other personnel would
be made up of headquarters staff, intelligence, logistics, medics and air support teams plus a 40-strong group from 45 Commando
to help train the Afghan army.
One commander insisted that
the six fatalities did not prompt the decision to send extra troops, instead explaining that it was part of a continual reassessment
of capacity on the ground.
"No plan survives first
contact with the enemy," said another.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday that Britain's
mission to bring security to southern Afghanistan
was going to be tough because troops were deploying in a particularly restive region for the first time.
"This has always been a
tough task," Blair -- who three years ago sent a much larger British to invade Iraq alongside the United
States -- told reporters at his Downing Street residence.
"People have always understood
that it's going to be dangerous and difficult for a very simple reason that for the first time we are going into the south
of Afghanistan where the Taliban and the
terrorists are trying to get a foothold back there," he said.
"It is absolutely essential
that we, along with all the other countries who are working with us, fight to make sure that the reconstruction process that
the people of Afghanistan want to see
is actually delivered because if it is delivered then that has an impact on their country and our security."
the UN special representative in Afghanistan,
Tom Koenigs, called the British move "excellent news".
"That is exactly what we
need. We need from the Brits, from Italians and from all the other contributors and even from those who do not contribute,"
Koenigs said. "That gives a clear message to Taliban that they will not win."
News of the reinforcements
came after Browne admitted in an interview Saturday that the British presence in Helmand had "energised" the Taliban, the
hardline former rulers of Afghanistan
ousted by US-led forces in 2001.
But he defended Britain's role there, despite the recent military fatalities, saying it was vital for security
in Afghanistan and to prevent the resurgence
of Al-Qaeda-linked groups.
Britain is due to head a NATO-led force in Helmand from the end of July, taking over control of security from the US military.
The mission aims to rid
the area of Taliban violence, rebuild the economy and replace widespread opium farming with alternative livelihoods.
Britain currently deploys 3,300 troops in Helmand plus 200 in neighbouring
Kandahar province, according to the military sources. Another
1,000 are posted in the capital Kabul.
They are involved with Afghan,
Canadian and US soldiers in a major anti-Taliban operation, Mountain Thrust, that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of
militants since it was launched mid-May.
Two soldiers from foreign
forces -- a Canadian and a Peruvian serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) -- have been
killed in Afghanistan in recent days.
More than 50 foreign soldiers,
most of them Americans, have been killed by the upsurge in Taliban violence this year.