PM's £160m pledge to protect forces from roadside bombs

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The Independent Online

The Ministry of Defence is to spend £160m on combating the roadside bombs and mines which have claimed the lives of hundreds of British and American servicemen in the Afghan war.

The programme, which will include a specialist centre devoted to the analysis of intelligence and surveillance material, is due to be announced by the Secretary of State for Defence, Bob Ainsworth, in the Commons tomorrow.

IEDs (improvised explosive devices) have been responsible for more than 85 per cent of recent deaths and injuries suffered by UK and allied forces. Around £150m of the total would have to be found from "reprioritising" the existing military budget and the rest would be drawn from UORs (urgent operational requirements) provided by the Treasury.

British troops are receiving the Talisman mine-clearing vehicles and Dragon Runner robots, which can be carried by troops in their backpacks and, it is claimed, can climb stairs and open doors to detect bombs and booby traps. A hundred British troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year, fuelling growing opposition to the war at home.

During a trip to Afghanistan yesterday, Gordon Brown held his first meeting with President Hamid Karzai since the two men had been involved in acrimonious exchanges over the fraud-ridden national elections.

Mr Karzai said he was "very, very sorry" when he saw British troops killed or wounded in Afghanistan, and said he was aware of the consequences in Britain. "I am terribly sorry for them losing their sons and daughters, as we are sorry for us losing our sons and daughters in Afghanistan. But we have a job to do together and we must endure, as hard as it may be."

Mr Karzai stressed that he too wanted to see Afghan forces taking on the responsibility of providing security for their own country "as soon as possible". He had pledged to send 10,000 more Afghan soldiers and 10,000 police officers to be trained in Helmand and Kandahar.

The Afghan president insisted he was "happy and honoured" to call Mr Brown a friend, adding that they had a "very, very trustworthy relationship". In response, the British Prime Minister declared that he and Mr Karzai had always had "the best relations".

The two leaders discussed the coming international summit on Afghanistan to be held in London on 28 January next year. On announcing the holding of the meeting, Mr Brown had stated that Mr Karzai would face "milestones on which he's going to be judged". Besides stepping up training and deployment of Afghan security forces, reducing corruption and appointing local leaders, by the end of next year, the Afghan government should have trained another 50,000 troops and must take control of at least five districts from British and other Nato forces.

In a riposte, Mr Karzai said at the time that the "milestones" were "very unfortunate and very artificial... it is extremely insulting. But it doesn't affect me and it doesn't affect the Afghan people."

Mr Brown had been due to hold his meeting with President Karzai at Camp Bastion, the main British military base in Helmand. However, the location had to be rescheduled to Kandahar due to flight difficulties caused by poor weather, and the Prime Minister spent the night in what was described as "basic quarters" at Kandahar air base.

Later, after meeting members of the forces at Camp Bastion, Mr Brown said: "I wanted to be here with the troops to thank them for what they are doing. I feel for all of those families who have lost loved ones, particularly as we move towards Christmas.

He also pledged that British troops will get whatever was necessary as the conflict entered a "critical" phase.