Bri­tish troops to stay in Hel­mand

Fox rules out a move to join new of­fen­sive

Daily Mail - - News - By Ian Drury and Tim Shipman

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.

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