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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 October 2006, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
UK troops 'need more helicopters'
RAF Chinook
Troops need more Chinook helicopters to carry out operations
UK forces fighting the Taleban in Afghanistan need more troop-carrying helicopters to carry out their mission, the British commander there has said.

Brigadier Ed Butler requested more Chinook helicopters in response to a promise by Prime Minister Tony Blair of whatever extra resources were needed.

Mr Blair praised troops' courage during a "very tough" operation.

The Ministry of Defence says troops are to carry out a week-long review to see if additional equipment is needed.

The study will be done by Royal Marines who are taking over duties in the south of the country.

Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said the Army was overstretched, and was already waiting for promised supplies.

Mr Blair's comments came in an interview on British Forces TV and Radio to mark the fifth anniversary of operations in Afghanistan.

He acknowledged that the south of the country, where most troops were based, was still "lawless", and pledged "every support and every protection" for the British force.

They are working very hard and there's been some phenomenal flying from the pilots
Brig Ed Butler

In response to Mr Blair's offer of resources, Brig Butler, the outgoing commander of the troops in the southern Helmand province, said helicopters had always been his top priority.

"They are working very hard and there's been some phenomenal flying from the pilots in very difficult and dangerous conditions," he said.

"If we had more, then clearly we could generate a higher tempo, not just offensive operations but also to crack on with the reconstruction and development.

"Clearly, helicopters can't be grown overnight, nor can some of the other machinery - so there's a prioritisation that will have to be taken."

The Ministry of Defence said it was not aware of a specific request for extra helicopters from Brig Butler.

"The commanders have what they need to do the mission, Obviously, if they had more they could do more with it. That is what Brig Butler has always said," am MoD spokesman said.

The BBC's correspondent in Kabul, Alistair Leithead, says the question of extra helicopters has been raised again and again - with other Nato units also wanting more.

'Long haul'

Meanwhile Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister with responsibility for Afghanistan, stressed troops were fighting a "fierce battle" and were in the country for "a long haul".

He said that while British commanders felt they had all of the equipment they needed, they would like more support from some other Nato countries which were not "punching their weight".

In September alone, seven soldiers died in Afghanistan as a result of hostile action and 14 died when a RAF Nimrod crashed after a suspected technical fault.

In all, 40 British soldiers have been killed since September 2001, and there have been high casualties in the past three months.

On Sunday, it emerged a Nato soldier had been killed in an attack on a patrol in the southern province of Kandahar. Nato did not reveal the soldier's identity or nationality.

NATO FORCE IN AFGHANISTAN
Graph
31,000 troops now on ground in Afghanistan, including 10,000 coalition troops moved under Nato command
37 nations contributing
8,000 US-led troops continue training and counter-terrorism separate from Nato force
*Contribution figures may differ from exact numbers on the ground

Mr Blair said it was "frustrating" that some people did not recall the circumstances of the original deployment.

"It came about as a result of 11 September, as a result of the need to drive the Taleban and al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan," he said.

Mr Fox said Mr Blair's offer of more help was meaningless.

"When the prime minister says 'whatever they want they will get', it's now several months, for example, since the government promised to fit fuel-retardant foam into all the Hercules aircraft, and yet it hasn't been happening.," he said.

"And when the prime minister says that we will send as many men as our commanders require, where are we going to get them from?"

Brig Jerry Thomas takes over command from Brig Butler on Sunday as the 3 Para Battle Group is replaced by the Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Tony Blair on British troops in Afghanistan



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