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Britain to send extra troops to Afghanistan

UK Defence Secretary John Reid said the Country would deploy around 4,000 additional troops in Afghanistan.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2006 19:00 IST

Britain will deploy around 4,000 additional troopsin Afghanistan as it takes control of NATO's three-year mission in southern provinces where international forces have been targeted by suicide bombers, the government said on Thursday.

British force levels in Afghanistan would peak at around 5,700 before dropping to around 4,700, after engineers had completed building bases by July, Defence Secretary John Reid said.

Reid acknowledged the NATO mission's expansion into southern Afghanistan would be dangerous.

"Those risks are as nothing compared to the dangers to our country and our people of allowing Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of the Taliban and the terrorists," Reid told fellow lawmakers in the House of Commons.

"We cannot risk Afghanistan once again becoming a sanctuary for terrorists -- we have seen where that leads, be it in New York or here in London," he said.

This year has been the deadliest in Afghanistan since US-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001 for harbouring Osama bin Laden.

Fighting has killed more than 1,500 people and, earlier this month, a US soldier was wounded when a suicide bomber targeted a military convoy in Helmand.

"Our troops will be able to defend themselves in any way that the commanders on the ground see fit," Reid told a news conference.

He added that the British force in Helmand would include troops from the 16th Air Assault Brigade and an airborne infantry battle group, including eight Apache attack helicopters.

Britain now has around 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, and the new deployment would not lead to a lessening in troop numbers in Iraq, where Britain has an 8,500-strong force, Reid said.

Unlike the US mission to seek out terrorists and put them in "jail or under the ground," Reid said the NATO-led campaign aimed to "stop terrorists coming back."

NATO is expanding its International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, from 9,000 to about 16,000 troops, and will be responsible for security in about three-quarters of Afghanistan.

Britain's new deployment, to be made by summer, coincides with the country's taking control of ISAF in May.

The NATO mission, based in Kabul, also will open a support base in the southern city of Kandahar.

The three-year operation was expected to cost Britain 1 billion pounds, Reid said. The ISAF soldiers did not have "a primary purpose of waging war," Reid added.

First Published: Jan 27, 2006 12:36 IST