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Asia-pacific

Brown defends Afghan mission as UK death toll creeps higher

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-08-17

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said British troops were doing a "vital job" and would not give up the fight, after four more British soldiers were killed in battles against the insurgent Taliban, bringing the UK death toll to 204.

AFP - Four more British troops were killed in Afghanistan, taking the death toll to 204, as a poll Monday showed most Britons think the government is not doing enough to support the Afghan mission.

Amid a spike in violence ahead of Thursday's Afghan presidential elections, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said troops were doing a "vital job" and Britain would not give up the fight against Taliban insurgents.

Three soldiers, from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, died Sunday following an explosion while on patrol near Sangin in southern Helmand province, the Ministry of Defence said.

Another soldier from the same regiment succumbed to injuries sustained while on foot patrol Saturday also near Sangin, the ministry also said.

The deaths brought to 204 the number of troops killed since the 2001 US-led invasion to oust the Taliban regime, passing the bloody milestone of 200 and reviving debate about the purpose and resourcing of the Afghan mission.

A soldier who died on Saturday took the toll to 200.

"In these moments of sorrow and sadness, we must never forget why we are in Afghanistan and why people are making the sacrifice that they are making," Brown said Sunday.

"Three-quarters of the terrorist plots that hit Britain derive from the mountain areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan and it is to make Britain safe and the rest of the world safe that we must make sure we honour our commitment."

Brown also said Britain would give troops "all the support that they need to succeed in this vital mission" -- amid concern over reasons for the mission and claims of a lack of equipment for soldiers.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said he expected a "degree of progress" in the next year, which would allow the Afghan national army to increasingly play a bigger frontline role.

"I genuinely believe that in the next year or so that we will be able to show a degree of progress," he told the BBC.

The increase in deaths follows the launch of Operation Panther's Claw against Taliban insurgents in Helmand to improve security ahead of Afghanistan's presidential elections.

A poll released Monday said 82 percent of Britons believe the government is not doing enough to support troops in Afghanistan, compared to 12 percent who said support is sufficient.

Fifty-seven percent said troops should not be fighting in Afghanistan, and only 13 percent said it was "very clear" why troops were there.

The YouGov poll commissioned by Sky News surveyed 2,127 Britons.

British troop levels now are at their highest yet -- 9,150, up from 8,300 in April. Overall there are more than 100,000 international soldiers in Afghanistan, nearly two-thirds of them American.

Colonel Richard Kemp, commander of British forces in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004, called the 200th death "a very significant milestone".

"I think there will be questions asked about whether what we're achieving in Afghanistan, and what we're hoping to do in Afghanistan is worth this number of British soldiers' lives," he told the BBC.

Relatives of those killed have called for British troops to pull out, with one saying the deaths so far had been "effectively pointless".

Graham Knight, whose son Ben died when a Royal Air Force Nimrod patrol aircraft exploded over Afghanistan in 2006, said it was time for a pullout.

"There is talk that there could be a military presence for the next 40 years," he said.

"It sends a cold shiver down my spine. We are ill-equipped and ill-advised -- we should be getting the non-militant Taliban around the table and begin talks so we can embark on a withdrawal."

Anthony Phillippson, whose son James died in a firefight with the Taliban in 2006, said the death of all troops had been "effectively pointless", adding it was "immoral ministers have left troops so inadequately equipped".
 

Date created : 2009-08-17

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