UK troops 'will not be needed' in Afghanistan

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Large–scale deployment of British troops in Afghanistan has been effectively ruled out, senior defence sources made clear today.

Large–scale deployment of British troops in Afghanistan has been effectively ruled out, senior defence sources made clear today.

Officials said that it was not certain whether any further UK ground troops would be needed beyond the small number of Royal Marines and Special Boat Service troops securing the Bagram airbase.

Even if more forces were sent to the country, it would be far fewer than the 6,000 paratroopers, marines and support personnel currently on 48 hours standby.

"Almost certainly nothing like that number would deploy, even if a political decision was made to deploy," one source said.

"It remains far from clear if there is a role for any additional UK armed forces to go to Afghanistan. The desirability of additional forces is not yet at all certain."

The disclosure that troops will not now be deployed in large numbers comes after a week of confusion and mixed signals from Whitehall over the Government's plans.

On Wednesday of last week, Tony Blair announced in the Commons that 4,000 troops had been placed on standby to go in as part of an international "stabilisation" force in what Downing Street said was a clear signal of the Government's intent.

Following the deployment last Friday of what was thought to have been and advance party of 100 marines and SBS to Bagram, the number of personnel on 48–hour readiness was raised to 6,000.

Just two days ago, International Development Secretary Clare Short warned of a potential humanitarian crisis unless troops were deployed in force to secure supply routes for the aid agencies.

Her comments echoed warnings by aid agencies such as Oxfam which said that local warlords were preventing food convoys getting through.

However officials at the Ministry of Defence said today that it was now apparent that troops would not necessarily be needed for the supplies to get through.

"I think there is a greater awareness of the true situation regarding the humanitarian problem," one said.

"There is not necessarily a role for significant numbers of the military forces to enable or protect aid. That is a revelation of the last few days."

Officials said that the troops had been put on increased readiness, simply so that they were in a position to respond to the "potential speed of political decision–making".





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