26 February 2007

Extra 1,400 UK troops to be sent to Afghanistan

By Michael Evans
The Times, UK, 26 February 2007

Substantial British reinforcements are being sent to Afghanistan, consisting of 1,400 more troops, heavy armour and rockets and additional ground-attack aircraft and helicopters.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, told the Commons that the extra troops and firepower were needed to support the British force already in Helmand province in the south.

Despite the heavily trailed decision to send more troops, the additional firepower being sent with the extra 1,400 troops came as a surprise and underlined the concerns expressed by military commanders in Afghanistan that they did not have the equipment needed to take on the Taleban if they mount, as expected, a spring offensive.

The list of extra equipment includes Warrior armoured infantry fighting vehicles and multiple-launch rocket systems, both being deployed to Afghanistan for the first time, as well as four more Harrier GR9s, to be used as bombers in a close-air support role for ground troops, and four additional Sea King helicopters. An extra C130 Hercules transport aircraft is also being sent.

The extra battle group announced by Mr Browne will increase the size of Britain’s military presence in Afghanistan to 7,700. This force level will be maintained, under present planning assumptions, until 2009.

The additional troops will mostly be in Helmand. However, the intention is to provide the southern regional commander, soon to be a Briton, Major-General Jacko Page, with a “manoeuvre group” capable of being deployed anywhere in the south.

Mr Browne said he was forced to make his decision about sending another battle group because other Nato partners had failed to offer any extra troops.

He told the Commons: “We believe every Nato partner should be prepared to do more to meet this need (for extra troops). But we must be realistic. I have lobbied our partners (most recently at a Nato meeting of defence ministers in Seville) consistently for more help but it is increasingly obvious that at present, when it comes to the most challenging parts of Afghanistan, only we and a small number of key allies are prepared to step forward.”

Other players in Afghanistan, notably France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are all based in areas where there is little Taleban presence and where fighting is rare, unlike the south and east, where it is a daily occurrence.

The British reinforcements will start to arrive in Afghanistan in May and will continue to deploy through the early summer.

The battle group will consist of the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh Regiment - formerly the Royal Welch Fusiliers until a recent amalgamation - which will be augmented with a company from the 1st Battalion Scots Guards, equipped with Warrior.

There will also be additional artillery, with a battery of six 105mm light guns from 19th Regiment Royal Artillery, and a troop of guided multiple launch rocket systems from 39th Regiment Royal Artillery.

Citation: Michael Evans. "Extra 1,400 UK troops to be sent to Afghanistan," The Times, UK, 26 February 2007.
Original URL: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1442932.ece