Another 900 British troops will be sent to Helmand

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Britain is sending almost 900 extra soldiers and additional helicopters to Afghanistan to counter increasing attacks from Taliban forces. The first contingent of reinforcements - almost 25 per cent of the force deployed last February - will be combat troops based in Cyprus, who would have otherwise been expected to fight in Iraq.

The package, announced by Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence in the Commons yesterday, includes 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines; 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; the 1st Battalion; and the Royal Irish Regiment. Apache and Lynx helicopters will also go to Afghanistan.

The deployment means that British forces will be facing "a war on two fronts" - in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Senior defence sources said this left the Army "stretched" but not yet "overstretched".

Mr Browne told MPs that the forces were being sent because "the commanders saw the chance to reinforce the position of the local governor and the Afghan army and police by going into northern Helmand and challenging the impunity of the Taliban there."

As the Defence Secretary was making his statement, senior defence and diplomatic sources revealed that British forces had moved into northern Helmand earlier than they would have wanted. Last week British troops in Helmand averaged 10 gunfights a day, according to one military source.

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