British troops to stay in Helmand
Fox rules out a move to join new offensive
BRITISH troops will remain in Helmand and not join a Nato offensive to crush insurgents in a volatile neighbouring province, Liam Fox insisted yesterday.
The Defence Secretary said it was ‘highly unlikely’ that UK forces would transfer to Kandahar to join the operation when Canada withdraws next year.
He indicated the plan was unacceptable because Britain had paid a ‘very high cost in life and limb’ since shifting to Helmand in 2006.
The death toll of UK troops is 293 – the latest yesterday – with hundreds more injured.
Mr Fox spoke out as the head of the Army launched a thinly-veiled attack on Gordon Brown for failing to treat the insurgency in Afghanistan as a full-blown war. General Sir David Richards criticised the ex-prime minister for being ‘reluctant for far too long’ to treat the military mission as a conflict.
The country’s top soldier also risked angering the Royal Navy and RAF by insisting ‘obvious threats’ such as fighting the Taliban must be the funding priority for the cashstrapped Government.
The Defence Secretary rebuffed speculation that British soldiers could be redeployed elsewhere in southern Afghanistan after holding his first meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Robert Gates.
Nato commanders have discussed the possibility of asking the UK to join the counterinsurgency in Kandahar.
But at a joint press conference yesterday, Mr Fox said: ‘I think it is highly unlikely that that will happen. And it is certainly not something that we will be proposing.’
He revealed that U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, had not requested the move during talks last month.
Mr Gates, however, raised the possibility of more U.S.
‘It is highly unlikely’
troops being deployed to Helmand – fuelling concerns the British are struggling to beat the insurgents.
Some 10,000 UK personnel in the troubled province have been reinforced by about 20,000 U.S. marines since President Barack Obama ordered a ‘surge’ last year. Sangin, cur- rently home to 40 Commando Royal Marines, is a Taliban stronghold considered the ‘most dangerous place on earth’ for a serviceman.
Mr Gates also warned Britain not to cut frontline forces in an effort to save money.
Meanwhile, General Richards launched a broadside at Mr Brown as he described 2010 as ‘undoubtedly a critical year’ for the Afghan campaign.
He told a conference in London organised by the independent Royal United Services Institute: ‘The Prime Minister describes it as a war, something that some people were reluctant to do for far too long.’
Sources made clear he was referring to the former Labour leader.
A serviceman from 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, attached to 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, was killed in a gun battle in Nad’e Ali yesterday. His family have been informed.