Official figures 'underestimate casualties in Afghanistan'

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Casualties among British soldiers serving in Afghanistan are higher than official figures, according to a commanding officer in the field.

The remarks by Major John Swift, who commands a company of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in southern Afghanistan, were reported in the Fusiliers' newsletter and briefly appeared on the Ministry of Defence website yesterday, before MoD officials removed them.

Major Swift wrote that "the scale of casualties has not been properly reported and shows no sign of reducing". He also commented that, contrary to what has been said publicly by defence ministers, " political not military imperatives are being followed in the campaign".

According to the official figures, 36 British servicemen have died in Afghanistan so far this year, compared with just four from 2001 to 2005. There are also 37 recorded as being admitted to hospital after being wounded in action in the first seven months of the year, plus 10 more in August. Another 40 were treated for "non-battle injuries".

However the MoD website concedes that these figures include only those service or civilian personnel treated in the British field hospital at Camp Bastion, the Canadian hospital at Kandahar, or the French or Greek hospitals in Kabul. The UK also has four primary health care centres in Helmand, generally consisting of a doctor and a few nurses. Major Swift's claims that casualties are not properly reported is likely to refer to wounded men being treated at the care centres and sent back into the line, without being entered on the official statistics.

The "political imperatives" mentioned by Major Swift were that the UK and other Nato governments have responded to a plea by Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, who feared the Taliban, operating from bases across the Pakistan border, were on the verge of taking entire provinces in southern Afghanistan.

Military planners had intended British troops to be stationed in the main towns, such as Kabul, but since May, British troops have been in the countryside in Helmand province, where they are exposed to constant attack by the Taliban.

An MoD spokesman denied it had ordered the removal of Major Swift's comments from the website and stressed the transparency of the department's reporting procedures . "We publish our casualty figures, and they cover all serious injuries. We're not going to go and capture [figures] for everybody who gets a cut."

The leaked comments came only days after the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, admitted that the "tenacity" shown by the Taliban had been a surprise.