Advance party of 30 Royal Marines flies to Bagram air base

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The Independent Online

British troops have already flown to Afghanistan to form part of a stabilisation force, The Independent has learnt.

About one third of the troops due to be deployed by Britain before the inauguration of the interim administration this weekend landed at Bagram air base, 32 miles from Kabul, on Monday night.

British Army engineers inspected Kabul airport, at the moment unusable for flights, yesterday as a possible base for the planned International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The advance party of 30 Royal Marines from Bravo Company arrived on C130 transport planes from a base in a Gulf state, having been flown there from the assault ship HMS Fearless by Sea King helicopters.

The Army confirmed yesterday that armed intruders have been intercepted trying to break into Bagram, which is controlled by British and American forces and is the centre for military and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan.

Officers said those caught were handed over to the Northern Alliance, which maintains checkpoints outside the base. They would not give details of the incidents.

The newly arrived Royal Marines at Bagram will be joined by about 65 more in the next 48 hours. One of their first tasks will be to escort foreign dignitaries arriving for the ceremony to mark the inauguration of the interim administration on Saturday.

About 42 Royal Marines, from Charlie Company, have been in Bagram for more than four weeks, with the role of guarding the base. Some may join the stabilisation force.

The deployment of ISAF has been delayed because of disagreements between Germany and the United States over its command and control, and with the Northern Alliance over rules of engagement.