Troops will stay in Sierra Leone, says Geoff Hoon

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The Independent Online

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon insisted today that British troops would not be withdrawing from Sierra Leone and "still had a job to do" there.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon insisted today that British troops would not be withdrawing from Sierra Leone and "still had a job to do" there.

His comments followed yesterday's daring swoop by paratroopers on a jungle hideaway to free six members of the Royal Irish Regiment, who had been held by the rebel West Side Boys.

Earlier, shadow Defence Secretary Iain Duncan Smith called for all British troops to be pulled out.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the initial operation to take out British nationals and support the Sierra Leone government, which the Conservatives supported, was over.

He added: "We either now take the decision to withdraw British troops - which I would favour - and tell the UN to get on with the job they were told to do in the first place, or else we decide, if we put British troops in, they have got to be properly protected.

"As long as British troops are hanging around, it seems to me that the UN think they can rely consistently on British efforts.

"It really is a failure of Robin Cook's policy that he is meandering on this."

One British soldier and 25 rebels were killed during the 90-minute rescue operation and several more troops were injured.

Mr Hoon today revealed that the freed soldiers would be questioned about why they were in the jungle in the first place.

"It is important we understand why the hostages were taken and take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again," he told BBC news.

"When the soldiers come back (to Britain) we will hope to establish what they were doing there.

"We have a partial picture but we want to know why."

Mr Hoon said the Government had no plans to immediately withdraw British troops from Sierra Leone, but added that their work training government troops was nearly done.

British soldiers have been in the troubled African country to .

Mr Hoon added: "There is no question of us withdrawing our troops at this time. We have approved three support training missions, two of which have been concluded and one which is almost under way."

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