Foreign Office Minister backtracks over helicopter shortage comments

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Indy Politics

Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown has insisted that he believes there are "without doubt" sufficient resources for current British military operations in Afghanistan.

The minister issued a "clarification" after he told The Daily Telegraph that there was "definitely" a need for more helicopters for British troops fighting the Taliban.

He said in a statement: "On the issue of helicopters in Afghanistan, I was making the point - as the Prime Minister and commanders on the ground have also done - that while there are without doubt sufficient resources in place for current operations, we should always do what we can to make more available on the front line."

His statement came after his interview with the Telegraph reopened the dispute over whether the forces have the helicopters they need to move around the country with a degree of safety.

He said: "I know from my role as FCO Minister for Afghanistan that this is a high priority for the Prime Minister and that there is a huge procurement effort ongoing in the Ministry of Defence to deliver just this."

He said that helicopter capability had already increased by 84% over the last two years, and would increase further when the additional Merlin helicopters were deployed into Afghanistan later this year.

The Nato helicopter fund, which Britain helped establish, would also begin to deliver additional helicopters this year, he said.

Lord Malloch-Brown - who leaves the Government at the end of the week - issued his statement as Gordon Brown was preparing to hold his monthly Downing Street news conference where he is likely to face questions on the issue.