British soldiers hurt in Afghanistan blast

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The Independent Online

Several British soldiers have been injured in an explosion in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said today.

According to reports, a Nato vehicle was attacked by a suicide bomber in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the turbulent southern province of Helmand.

Witnesses said several people were killed when the suicide bomber threw himself at troops, with reports of two Nato personnel among the dead.

An MoD spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that a small number of UK soldiers have been injured in an explosion in Lashkar Gah.

"There are no reports of British fatalities."

Nato secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the use of suicide bombs was an indication that the Taliban recognised they could not defeat multinational forces by conventional means.

Giving his response to today's incident, Mr de Hoop Scheffer told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It does bring home that the Taliban and the other spoilers of the process of nation-building and democracy in Afghanistan are having to go with these kinds of horrible tactics - improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and so on - because they know they can't beat Nato in other ways.

"I can assure you they will not beat Nato - neither the UK nor other forces - by employing these tactics."

Mr de Hoop Scheffer played down the prediction of Lieutenant General David Richards, the British commander of Nato's international security force in Afghanistan, that this winter could see a "tipping point" with local people switching their allegiance to the Taliban.

"I think that we should be a bit careful to impose deadlines on ourselves," he said.

"But I agree with Gen Richards that it is of great importance to win the battle for hearts and minds.

"He is right when he says that a number of people in Afghanistan are sitting on the fence and looking how things will further develop."

Mr de Hoop Scheffer said the success of Nato's mission would depend on its ability to help the Afghan government deliver improvements to ordinary people's lives, including jobs, infrastructure and alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers.

"If people think that there is a military solution, they are wrong," he warned.

Mr de Hoop Scheffer's visit to London today comes amid continuing Nato appeals for additional troops for Afghanistan from member states.

He welcomed recent pledges of troops from Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Denmark and Canada.

But he acknowledged that there was "competition for forces" because of multinational deployments in Iraq, Congo and Lebanon.

He said: "I am not completely satisfied, because we always can do better if we have more forces, but since the call went out... we have seen a lot of nations stepping up to the plate. We are not entirely there yet."

He warned: "If we fail, then Afghanistan will come to us. It will be a breeding ground for terrorists again.

"Do not forget 9/11. Do not forget other terrorist attacks."