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British prime minister defends Afghan mission

The deaths of eight British soldiers in Afghanistan within 24 hours have triggered a debate in Britain that could undercut public support for the war just as the United States is ramping up its own participation in the conflict.

world Updated: Jul 12, 2009 11:26 IST

The deaths of eight British soldiers in Afghanistan within 24 hours have triggered a debate in Britain that could undercut public support for the war just as the United States is ramping up its own participation in the conflict.

With pictures of hearses and anguished relatives splashed across Britain's influential media, the government is under pressure to explain the reason for the soldiers' sacrifice and to defend the quality of its support for combat troops.

The deaths, on Thursday and Friday, pushed Britain's overall toll in Afghanistan to 184 - five more than the total British deaths in the Iraq war. The number is less than a third of the 657 American forces' deaths since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, according to US figures.

But to a country that has not suffered significant casualties in years, the images of flag-draped British coffins are haunting.

Increasing British unease could have severe consequences for the Americans. With other European nations unwilling to send in more troops, and Afghan forces not ready to take up overall security, Britain's support is crucial to any American effort.

The high number of recent battle deaths has brought into focus the problems and inconsistencies of a war that started with a limited objective -- find Osama bin Laden and defend Britain from terrorism -- but which has now embraced broader