Britain may send more troops to bolster Nato in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

Britain is considering sending extra troops to Afghanistan following Nato's failure to offer the reinforcements requested by commanders struggling to combat a reinvigorated Taliban.

Contingency plans are being drawn up after commanders warned that lack of reinforcements for an autumn offensive would severely hinder the campaign momentum. The options for deployment under consideration include the current spearhead battalion, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, on a short-term basis, or either the 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Rangers or the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment.

The Canadians, also taking losses in the Kandahar region, are reinforcing their contingents with troops as well as 15 Leopard tanks. Sending the troops, however, will not solve the lack of helicopters dogging the Nato force. Land convoys are regularly ambushed, and even a routine re-supplying run now needs full battle-group protection. The British military is adamant that there are no helicopters to spare.

Lieutenant-General David Richards, British commander of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, has said a reserve of 1,000 combat troops would allow him "to swing my main effort where I want to go, rather than having to respond to Taliban attacks and so on". He also pointed out that Nato has been asking for reinforcements for 18 months.

The US and Britain have repeatedly called for other Nato members to shoulder more of the Afghan burden. But the summit in Warsaw last week failed to provide the 2,500 extra troops, armour and aircraft for which General James Jones, Nato's military chief, has asked.

Poland is sending 1,000 extra troops to join 100 already in Afghanistan. But they will be based in the east of the country, away from the fighting in the south. This was already in the pipeline before the present Nato request, and in any event the Poles are not due to arrive for another six months. In the meantime, the military points out, it is British soldiers who are dying. The view is that the Government has a moral duty to send forces while Nato dithers.