Extra UK troops for Sierra Leone

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Extra British troops are to be sent to trouble-torn Sierra Leone to train its army.

Extra British troops are to be sent to trouble-torn Sierra Leone to train its army.

The first of at least 100 more soldiers will be added to the existing 300 contingent later this month.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, Defence Minister of State, said the UK's objective was to ensure the people of Sierra Leone could realistically hope for peace and stability.

She told the House of Lords: "Our principal objective is to ensure that the people of Sierra Leone are offered a realistic prospect of stability and peace, and are freed from the violence of a brutal rebel minority."

The first team will be from the 1st Prince of Wales Own Regiment.

In a statement to the Lords, Lady Symons said the strategy towards Sierra Leone remained unchanged.

Lady Symons told peers the Government planned to continue the programme of training, equipping and advising.

And she added: "We will provide continuation and specialist training covering topics such as leadership and logistics."

A "package of equipment support" for the SLA would also be provided. Command and control arrangements would be enhanced through the provision of a "one star level HQ to command the overall UK effort".

The overall number of troops on the ground would rise from the current figure of about 300, to "somewhat over" 400.

Britain remained ready to deploy forces up to Brigade level in support of UN peacekeeping operations, she said.

"Final decisions on any deployment would of course remain with the Government. But the speed and scale of our deployment in May is a clear illustration of what we can do, should we judge it necessary and appropriate.

"To speed up our ability to respond, our deployed Headquarters would be capable of taking such a force under command."

The package of assistance announced will cost £27m on top of the £70m already committed by the UK.

For the Opposition, Lord Burnham asked if the Government would keep control over all decisions to deploy further troops and the rules of engagement.

"What constitutes a satisfactory conclusion to operations?" he demanded. All sides would wish to see a conclusion that allowed British forces to get out.

"This must not be an open-ended commitment to Sierra Leone," he said. "I am afraid this statement indicates that there is a vestige of a feeling that there may be a likelihood of extended UK commitment."

For the Liberal Democrats, Lord Wallace of Saltaire voiced strong support for the Government's move.

"This isn't a matter of quick in or quick out but necessarily a long term commitment in which we hope one will be able to move from first line troops to training and policing."

It was in the interests of the UK to support the reconstruction of statehood in such nation states, he said.

"If we fail to do so the consequences will turn up on the streets of London in the form of refugees."

Lady Symons said it was dangerous to speculate about future deployments when there were UK troops already on the ground.

But she assured peers the Government would keep control of deployment decisions and the rules of engagement.

"This is a matter that is kept under constant review," she said. "A satisfactory conclusion would be the establishment of peace and stability in Sierra Leone and ensuring that the rebels are under control."