British troops facing air supply crisis in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

British forces in Afghanistan are facing a supply crisis because nearly half of their helicopter transport fleet is unable to fly in daylight hours due to the searing Helmand heat.

The 3,300 British troops in the south rely on six Chinook and four Lynx aircraft for all transport and supply. The extreme heat and thin, rising air of the Helmand desert has limited the Lynx, an attack and utility helicopter, to use between dusk and dawn, when temperatures fall to acceptable levels, military sources confirmed.

Captain Drew Gibson, the British military spokesman with the Helmand force, declined to comment on the Lynx problems, citing "operational reasons". Lt Rob Hunt, the military spokesman in Kabul, said: "The Lynx is just one of a range of aircraft available to ground commanders in theatre. All air assets have their own operating margin and this is true of the Lynx. They are still a valued and useful asset in theatre, whatever their operating restrictions."

Brigadier Ed Butler, the commander of British forces in the south, admitted he had made a request for new equipment in Helmand amid a sharp increase in attacks and "changing circumstances". Five British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan in the past three weeks.

Questions surrounding the Lynx have compounded an already precarious situation for logistical support elements of the British force. General David Richards, overall Nato commander in Afghanistan, admitted last month that the transport helicopters available to forces in the south remained at the level they were at the start of this year, even though the number of troops has more than doubled since that time.

A Chinook resupply flight - able to carry 54 troops or 11 tons of equipment - was cancelled last month when a US soldier based with British troops in Musa Qala needed air evacuation with appendicitis. A Lynx would normally be used. British forces pinned down by Taliban guerrillas near the town of Gereshk last week waited for more than four hours for air support because no Lynx could fly.