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Saturday, 20 April, 2002, 18:48 GMT 19:48 UK
Last Marines arrive in Afghanistan
Royal Marines from 45 Commando RM are pictured patrolling during Operation Ptarmigan in the Afghanistan mountains
There are 1,700 Royal Marines in total in Afghanistan
The British fighting force in Afghanistan is complete with the arrival of more than 100 Royal Marines.

A total of nearly 1,700 Royal Marines are now in the country as part of Operation Ptarmigan, charged with destroying Taleban and al-Qaeda bunkers and cave complexes.

The last batch arrived at Bagram after nightfall on Saturday and make up the fourth and last fighting company of the 45 Commando deployed to Afghanistan.

There is a threat against the king

Lt Col Paul Harradine

Their arrival coincided with reports that leaflets were being dropped in the country inciting the Taleban to re-organise and re-group.

Littered leaflets also encouraged Afghans to carry out suicide bombing against international forces.

A spokesman for the Royal Marines also announced that they had received 'specific intelligence' information that groups were plotting an assassination attempt on the former king of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah.

He returned to the country on 18 April after 29 years in exile and Lt Col Paul Harradine said: "There is a threat against the former king.

"They could pose as media to get close enough to him to do it."

Fighting force

The Royal Marines spokesman added that there are "many factions" that would like to kill the former king.

The Marines are deployed as part of the Operation Jacana Taskforce in the region, based at Bagram airbase, 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of the capital Kabul.

They are to hunt out Taleban and Al-Qaeda forces in the mountains to the south east of Gardez.

The area, known as Ginger Valley, was targeted by American troops in Operation Anaconda last month - an offensive in which the US said eight of its own and "hundreds" of the enemy were killed.

It is littered with landmines and the debris of war, including the wreckage of a downed American Chinook helicopter.

Earlier this week the UK Government denied claims that UK forces could still be in Afghanistan in 10 years' time.

Defence Minister Geoff Hoon with the Royal Marines of 45 Commando before they left for Afghanistan
Defence Minister Geoff Hoon denies forces will stay ten years

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told the BBC he could not put a time limit on the British role in the peacekeeping force in Kabul, but it was not "long term".

He also rejected reports the Royal Marines working alongside US forces in flushing out al-Qaeda suspects were primarily there to act as a deterrent and not to fight.

But Mr Hoon said the British peacekeepers would only be there for "a limited period", although a reduced number would stay beyond June, when Turkey takes over Britain's leadership.

See also:

18 Apr 02 | South Asia
Marines end valley mission
18 Apr 02 | South Asia
US bomb kills allies in Afghanistan
18 Apr 02 | South Asia
Kabul joy as ex-king returns
17 Apr 02 | UK
'It looked like hell'
17 Apr 02 | Scotland
More marines head for Afghanistan
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