Fresh troops for Helmand as casualty toll set to rise

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The Independent Online

Reinforcements are being rushed out to replace the rising number of soldiers killed and injured in Afghanistan. A force of about 125 will be sent out next week after the deaths of 19 soldiers and injuries sustained by dozens more this month.

The troops, from 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of Wellington's) and counter-explosives specialists from the Royal Logistics Corps are being deployed following requests from commanders on the ground.

Twelve of the deaths have come in Operation Panchai Palang, Panther's Claw, going on as part of the American-led "surge", and five others, from 2nd Battalion, the Rifles, were killed by two roadside bombs in Sangin.

Announcing the deployment, the Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said: "I have always said that I will listen to the view of commanders on the ground in Afghanistan – they are the people best placed to know the resources needed for the operation.

"In this case they have told me that, after the sad and tragic casualty rate that we have suffered in recent weeks, reinforcements are necessary to ensure we can maintain our operational tempo and consolidate the real progress we have made."

The announcement by the MoD came as the head of the armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said British troops faced more tough fighting and more casualties in the weeks ahead. Sir Jock said: "It has been very tough, very hard fighting because Helmand is, for the Taliban, their vital ground. They are very, very unwilling to give it up. This is a tough military campaign, it is far from over, there will hard fighting to come.

"We will continue to lose people to improvised explosive devices and to other means. This – in a very real sense for the people on the ground – is a war and in a war you take casualties."

Sir Jock made clear there was no question of reducing the current British force after what was supposed to have been a temporary "surge" for next month's presidential elections.

He indicated that more reinforcements may need to be sent next year. "We have a baseline of 9,000 for our own troops. We need now to consider where we go at the end of this year and into 2010," he said. "We will consider where we go from that baseline."

He dismissed criticism by the Labour peer Lord Foulkes that he and the head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, had given "succour" to the enemy by publicly calling for more equipment.

"All one can do – all one must do in such a situation – is what one believes is right. That's frankly what drives me," he said. "It is of no interest to me what people expect of me on either side. I do what I believe is right in the situation."

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